A WALTZ FOR MATILDA
by Jackie French – Harper Collins, 2010
ages just-pre-teen to adult* / Australia, chapter books, y.a.
You don’t get much more Australian than the poem Waltzing Matilda by Banjo Paterson. It’s pretty much our unofficial National Anthem and has the true feel of the Australian bush. (Here's a classic rendition by John Williamson plus another by a group of Territorians - it's a hoot!)
The iconic poem is given a new perspective in this historic novel by Jackie French.
Set in Sydney in 1894, A Waltz for Matilda is the story of a courageous and determined young girl (Matilda) who, at twelve-years-old, is all alone and working in a jam factory.
The story follows Matilda as she flees an impoverished and lonely life in the city to search for the father she never knew.
The journey takes her to a whole new world where the land is tough and the people are strong. Into a land of dusty earth and wide skies that, even in it’s hardness, is full of it’s own special beauty.
Matilda does find her father and, although it's in the middle of a shearers' strike and in times that are hard, she feels that her dreams are finally coming true; they will be a family. And they set off together to waltz their Matildas until things settle down:
Her father had insisted on carrying her things too – not much: another dress, a blanket, needles and thread, her soap – in the big rolled swag that dangled down his back, with a billy dangling from one side. He’d grinned at her. ‘We’re waltzing our Matilda together’
She hadn’t understood. He patted the swag. ‘The men o’ the road call a swag their Matilda.’
‘Just like you. Your Matilda is your best friend when you’re on the road. Your Matilda and your billy.’
‘If I was a boy would you have called me Billy?’
He laughed at that. ‘I might.’
‘What about the waltzing?’
‘That’s what you do when you take the road to look for work. Waltzing your Matilda.’
But their new life barely gets started when tragedy strikes! With her world yet again in tatters, we follow Matilda as she refuses to give in and battles to hold on to what is hers - at a time when women are not supported in their independence.
With the help of Auntie Love who teaches her ‘women’s business’, and a handful of rough shearers, Matilda overcomes prejudice, drought, fire and flood to show us the true spirit of the Australian bush.
A Waltz for Matilda is a moving story, full of insightful history; the proud moments and the horrible. As I read and took in the vivid landscapes and relatable characters, I fell even more in love with this Great Southern Land and the people who belong to it.
* P.S. from Kim: The Matilda series are terrific for pre-teen and early adolescent girls who are looking for a little bit of romance. The female characters are strong women and girls who never lose sight of what is most important but who still have time for romance—and the books never go further than a chaste kiss.