The Night They Stormed Eureka

Written by Jackie French
Review by Elizabeth Jane

Huddled beneath the tombstone of Percival Puddleham, homeless teenager Sam longs for a haven in the past. A time when families lived in big rambling houses with wide verandas, when cooks wore starched white aprons and children ate buttered toast and plump apple pies. It would be nothing like her own life, she reasons. There would be no alcoholic Mum to worry about, or her fist happy partner Gavin. She would be safe there and loved.

Transported back to 1854, Sam finds that the past is not quite as cosy as she imagined. She is accosted by a bushranger, adopted by Elsie and Percival Puddleham and forced to masquerade as a boy on the increasingly restless Ballarat goldfields. Amid license hunts, police corruption, and eventual rebellion, Sam learns to love and trust. She also comes to value the freedom those early rebels fought and died for.

Jackie French handles the transition from past to present with ease, utilising the viewpoint of a displaced modern child, to tell a tale that both entertains and informs. Sam is a likeable character with believable flaws. The Puddlehams are delightfully quaint and well drawn. Their pain filled past, plus the philosophical ramblings of the alcoholic Shamus Oblivion, and the struggles of the indigenous boy George, raise the narrative above predictability. French provides extensive end-notes as well as recipes and anecdotes, making the novel an excellent adjunct to the Australian school curriculum. This is a book for readers in upper primary and lower secondary years.