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Saturday 6 October 2018

Review: Lucy's Dawn

Lucy’s Dawn begins in July 1889. It is through Lucy’s intermittent but detailed diary entries that we follow her life and enter the era that heralded women’s suffrage, championed by the dynamic and influential Louisa Lawson, mother of poet Henry Lawson, who pioneered the feminist magazine The Dawn

Her striking personality, intelligence, forcefulness and achievements are visible in every reference to her.

Fourteen year old Lucy has been helping her father in his printery and has won the spelling bee two years in a row. When he hears that Louisa Lawson, owner and editor of The Dawn magazine (who only employs women and girls) is looking for a proof-reader who can spell properly, he knows Lucy is perfect for the job.

An office girl is less than what Lucy wants to be. But it is an income after working for her father without pay. There she meets and immediately develops a crush on the twenty-two year old Henry Lawson. Lucy daydreams of being the love of his life. But the red-haired Charlie, who sees Lucy as a smashing bit of jam, stands waiting in the background.

But during the late 1800s, women’s positions in the workplace are categorized. It is considered unnatural that they work at men’s tasks; steal jobs from them by working for less. To men it is a given that women’s employment is only to be found as servant, maid, housekeeper and governess, and this in preparation for marriage.

It is fear of men losing their jobs to women that forces the Unions to take action. Trouble with gangs paid to intimidate female workers forces Louisa to hire guards to man the entrance to her printery. Meanwhile, Lucy’s sister Julia has fallen for the obnoxious, double-faced and suspect Archie Venables, leader of the trouble-makers. Can Lucy persuade Julia that what she sees is not really who Archie is?

There is a strong sense of time and place in this historical novel based of fact. It cleverly depicts the hard work, long hours, poor pay and conditions that women were subjected to as domestic servants, and their longing for rights and equality.

It defines the era and the many firsts connected to it such as the public use of electricity, Sydney’s burgeoning café society, the opening of new department stores such as David Jones, and the tea houses opened by Chinese tea importer Mei Quong Tart that saw a new space become available to women to visit and socialize.

The seven pages of Historical Notes that finish the book give an overview of Sydney in 1889, a view of the tremendous public buildings that were destroyed a year later in the Great Fire, plus the historical happenings in New South Wales of that time.

Title: Lucy’s Dawn
Author: Juliet Blair
Publisher: NLA Publishing, $17.99
Publication Date: March 2018
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780642279170
For ages: 9 - 14
Type:  Middle Fiction