On 1 January 1915, ramifications from the First World War, raging half a world away, were felt in Broken Hill, Australia, when in a guerrilla-style military operation, four citizens were killed and seven wounded.It was the annual picnic day in Broken Hill and a thousand citizens were dressed for fun when the only enemy attack to occur on Australian soil place during World War I, took them by surprise. Nicholas Shakespeare has turned this little known piece of Australian history into a story for our time.
This is a fascinating little look at a rapidly changing Australia of the past, when racial tensions and shifting gender roles were a sign of things to come. About a massacre at a picnic in Broken Hill in 1915, this book is a reminder that we really do have fascinating things in our past. People tend to say Australian history is boring, and I wish more people would go digging for these stories.
I loved that the characters all had their faults, and I really liked taking a look at day to day life of the time. A lot of historical fiction I read deals with rich and powerful characters, and I enjoy reading about other classes of society.
There were two things I struggled with a little. Firstly, I do think it’s hard to portray racial tensions without overly romanticising the minority race. Not everything about one culture has to be shown as perfect and everything about the other evil. I thought the issues were handled pretty sensitively, but I still do think things were painted as a bit too black and white.
However, this was definitely needed to a certain extent, as the aggressors were “Afghan” (actually from modern-day Pakistan) men. It’s a topic that has to be dealt with very carefully.
The other issue was a minor one, but one that annoys me. Ukraine – whether part of the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union – was never, ever Russia. No more than India being part of the British Empire made it Britain. Too many authors use Ukrainian cities and call their characters Russian. It’s infuriating!
Mostly, I’m glad I read this book because I’ve been meaning to read more about Australian history. I can’t remember ever hearing about this incident before, and while it was a horrible thing, I do like that the author dug this deeply into Broken Hill at the time of World War One.
Review copy provided by NetGalley.