'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Saturday 15 September 2018

Review: Spinning Tops and Gumdrops

Spinning Tops and Gumdrops is an historical book which addresses Colonial childhood from 1788 to the early 1900s. 

The 260 images, some of which have never been seen before, include sketches by S.T. Gill and other artists of the time. 

Passages from memoirs written for the education of future generations are used to fill this divine collection of early history and pioneering life.

Pictures of games that children played, how they entertained themselves, how they occupied their time, the state of education or lack of, and the clothing children wore, give a strong indication of how they lived in early Australia. 

There is also interesting information on the role of children within the large families that were common during those years; how they had to contribute to the chores on farms, fetching water, minding their younger siblings, and the allocation of gender roles during these years. Stunning photos represent the class divide, but where children played, class had no place.

Progress brought change. Life in the goldfields and the rich history of those times is recalled, as is the closeness of families and fondest memories that lasted a lifetime.
A time of the stocks; public floggings and hangings outside the jail became a common occurrence, as was child mortality due to sickness, mainly Diphtheria, but more so as the result of lack of hygiene and proper food, which resulted in diarrhoea being the greatest killer of children.

This book offers so much. Images of portraits painted before the introduction of photography in the 1840s decorate the pages as do the magnificent pictures from the National Library of Australia. They draw us back into the past and remind us of our country’s beginnings and evolution – good and bad.

It was shocking to discover the similarities in the situations of the most vulnerable in society. Much remains as it was in the destitute days of the mid 1800s. As I read about domestic violence, the abandoned and neglected children that were forced into homes, their sexual abuse by officials and carers, and how many were forced into prostitution due to their poverty, I realized how little has changed in that area; that we haven’t learnt what history should have taught.

This is a pick up and put down book. Open it anywhere and you will not be disappointed either by the text or the visuals. Presented in a powerful and informative narrative tone, it retains the reader’s absorbed interest throughout the six chapters. It’s an extremely valuable resource on our Colonial history; its shocking and beautiful parts, both claiming our full attention.

Title: Spinning Tops & Gumdrops: A Portrait of Colonial Childhood
Author: Edwin Barnard
Publisher: NLA, $44.95
Publication Date: March 2018
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780642279187
For ages: 12+
Type: Non Ficiton