28 February 2013
Australian Minister for Immigration , 1949
Leeds, Christmas 1948, and nine year old Jon Heather anxiously awaits his father’s return from the war, but times are hard for the Heather family, and even though Jon’s mother tries to hold her family together, she is in desperate circumstances. When she leaves Jon at the Chapeltown Boy’s Home of the Children’s Crusade, she promises to return for him in two months time, but as weeks pass with no news of his mother, Jon like all the other abandoned boys at the Children’s crusade must watch and wait and hope for a better future. What then follows, is a harrowing story of the forced migration of orphan and abandoned children, who were sent from England to Australia, ostensibly to a land filled with promise and great opportunity.
Based on fact, this fictional story is graphic in its depiction of what happened to the children once they reached Australia, and although at times it makes for uncomfortable reading, there is an overwhelming urge to continue with the story, in the hope that life will get better for them in this land of plenty. Jon is a spirited and reliable narrator, and throughout his story, I was reminded of Victorian Gothic novels, were orphans were exploited and used abominably, and then I had to forcibly remind myself that this story was far from Gothic, and had only happened within the last sixty or so years.
Beautifully written, the author Robert Dinsdale has a real flair for storytelling and despite the burden of sadness which pervades in Little Exiles, there is also a story of friendship, loyalty and the eventual realisation that home is wherever you can find it.
I am sure that this book will be featured on many a book group’s to be read list. Within it there is much to discuss, and more importantly, so much that remains with you long after the book is finished.
My thanks to Newbooks for a review copy of this book.