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Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

Neridah McMullin

Andrew McLean

Allen & Unwin, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781925266863

Bushfires are part of the Australian landscape and psyche.  Even though we know they are a necessary part of the life cycle of the indigenous flora, we still brace ourselves each summer hoping that we won’t be affected by one that season.  When they do strike though, news reports are cluttered with statistics of acreage burnt, homes and buildings destroyed, and too often, lives lost.  Seldom do we hear of the wildlife that is caught up in them, those that can’t clamber into a car and head to safety, although occasionally there are tragic photos of fields of dead sheep or heart-warming ones of a firey giving a koala a drink from his water bottle.  

In this book, based on real events that emerged from the tragic Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009, we are taken to Tarnpirr Farm in Narbethong in north-east Victoria where trainer Alan Evett tried desperately to save the horses in his care. With expensive thoroughbreds to save, Evett had no choice but to set retired favourite Fabish and the seven young horses he led free from their paddock to fend for themselves while he cared for those he hustled into the stables.  All around the fire raged, Evett working tirelessly on spot fires and keeping the horse calm, while outside…

Thankfully, the fire dragon passed over the top of the building even though it ate everything else in its path and when morning came, Evett emerged to a scene of utter desolation.   Although he had saved the life of the racehorses. Evett feared he would never see his old mate Fabish again.  Climbing into an old ute that had somehow escaped too, he drove out through the paddocks to be met by more devastation and disaster.  Standing in the smoke-filled ruins of what had been his landscape and livelihood he mourned for Fabish and the yearlings until…

Together McMullin and McLean have brought to life not only the story of Fabish and all the other horses like him, but also the sights, sounds and the smells of a fire that once experienced can never be forgotten. Through carefully chosen vocabulary and evocative pictures the reader is drawn into the story hoping for a good outcome. The fire dragon is indiscriminate when it attacks and young children are often caught up in it just as grown-ups are, and their questions are often about the animals and how they survived.  In the aftermath when adults are busy doing the adult things they must, the children are often left wondering and so to have an uplifting story like this that not only demonstrates the determination and courage of those like Alan Evett who put their charges’ welfare before their own but also has a happy ending can go some way to alleviate their fear that everything is destroyed.

Sensitive in its approach, even those children who can remember the fires will relate to it although some discretion might be needed if there have been recent fires in your area because even though it is heart-warming we must be conscious of the memories it might evoke. For those who want to know more, Fabish was honoured a year later at the Healesville Picnic Races  and while Evett died not long after, his heroic story and that of Fabish are becoming more widely known as this book is shortlisted for the 2017 CBCA Eve Pownall Award.

A story for horse lovers as well as those exploring the impact of bushfires on the landscape.  

Fabish and his yearlings, picture courtesy Racing Victoria Ltd.

Fabish and his yearlings

Horace the Baker’s Horse

Horace the Baker's Horse

Horace the Baker’s Horse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Horace the Baker’s Horse

Jackie French

Peter Bray

National Museum of Australia, 2015

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.95

9781921953255 

As “mornings come with ash grey light, daytime nibbling away the night” Old William, the town baker, slides crusty loaves and fancy buns out of his ovens, steaming and fresh with an aroma that can never be forgotten.  Alongside Old William is his grandson Young Billy, helping out before school and learning his family’s trade in the traditional way, while, outside, Horace the baker’s horse waits patiently as Big Bill loads them into the baker’s cart to be delivered to the townsfolk. Life in this town, like many others around Australia of the time, is lived in a different way and to the beat of a different drum – the sound of horses’ hooves as they plodded around the town pulling distinctive carts and making their daily deliveries of bread and milk and ice and vegetables and meat, even rabbits!  Their route was as familiar and predictable as the routine of those who prepared the goods they delivered. The merchants knew their customers and their regular orders, and their horses were as much a part of the community as the children who loved them.  (Many spring roses owed their magnificence to the gifts left by the horses.)

But it is 1919 and the scourge of Spanish flu is sweeping the nation.  Even Old William is not immune and to Horace’s dismay he slumps to the ground unable to carry on.  Horace’s whinnies wake Big Bill and Young Billy and they find themselves doing the jobs that three used to do, and then Young Billy finds himself having to do it all.  At night he carries wood for the fire for the ovens, makes and mixes the dough, kneads and shapes it, cooks the loaves and buns and then piles them into the cart to deliver them.  Clearly too much for one little lad but he knows that if his family and friends are to recover they need the bread so they can have something to eat to regain their strength.

But what happens when Young Billy just cannot make bread all night and then deliver it all day?

This is a story dear to author Jackie French’s heart because it is one from her own family.  When the Spanish flu decimated populations (killing more people than World War 1) many of the deaths were because people just had no one to care for them.  Jackie’s great-grandmother made vats and vats of stew but while the protein and vitamins were essential, it was the carbohydrates in the bread that gave the energy to push on.  So, inspired by the stories that her grandmother told her and Bakery Cart No. 168, an exhibit at the National Museum of Australia, Jackie has crafted this wonderful story that is not only a story in and of itself but is also an integral part of the story of our country, of life in another time, of people whom we will never know again. Through Young Billy and Horace, neither of whom were unique, another thread has been woven into the fabric that is Australia.   

Combined with the exquisite illustrations of Peter Bray who has created a visual mural of life in post-war Australia and captured the essence of the people who lived it, this is the perfect example of how we can engage even the very youngest student in times that have gone before.  Even though their grandparents’ memories might not stretch so far back (unlike Jackie and me), nevertheless Grandma and Grandad may well remember stories told to them by their grandparents that can be shared again and the thread continued. Just as my child was amazed that my New Zealand childhood did not include television, so his children are amazed that his did not have the internet, and while it was confronting when they first asked me, “What was life like in the olden days, Grandma?” nevertheless it was an opportunity to tell them of a life spent roaming the shoreline as free as the seagulls above me – a life that came to life for them when I took them “home” a few weeks ago.

The inquiry questions for Foundation of the HASS strand of the Australian Curriculum are

What is my history and how do I know?

What stories do other people tell about the past?

How can stories of the past be told and shared?

Horace the Baker’s Horse is the perfect way to show how our history is told through story and to encourage our students to discover theirs, share and compare. Even at the launch in Canberra yesterday, audience members were sharing stories about the anticipation that the smell of a hot loaf of bread evoked and the scoldings endured because the centre had been eaten out before the loaf reached home!  If Jackie had been able to eavesdrop, she might have gleaned the material for another book!

A must-have.

 

The launch of Horace The Baker's Horse at the NMA in Canberra

The launch of Horace The Baker’s Horse at the NMA in Canberra (Click the picture for the Canberra Times article)

Trick-Stars

Trick-Stars series

Trick-Stars series

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Triple Magic

9781743319055

Summer Spell

9781743319062

Second Chance

9781743319079

Saving Destiny

9781743319086

Chasing Dreams

9781743319109

Princess of the Sands

9781743319093

Karen Wood

Allen & Unwin, 2015

112pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

 

Identical triplets Ruby, Lexie and Kit Trickett dream of leaving Windara Farm performing spectacular tricks on their beautiful gypsy cob horses. It’s a dream that’s a far cry from the vegetable-growing district around Kulnara where the girls live on their grandfather’s farm.  But their horses Tinker, Kismet and Featherfoot are workhorses and Grampy is not a wealthy man.  However things change when Ruby climbs into the loft to look for some old horse rugs to keep the horses clean and discovers a mysterious trunk.  Its lid is painted blue with gold stars and a silver moon and there is a hand-painted picture of a horse with two riders standing on its back – very much like her dream. And written on the lid is “Gallius and Levinia Trickett”, her grandparents.

Ruby doesn’t know it but this discovery unleashes family histories and secrets that become the impetus for this new series written for newly independent readers from about 7-10.  Mix dreams, sadness, and intrigue with horses, acrobatics, magic and characters that appeal and there is a formula for a series that will appeal to girls who love reading and horses. There are six in the collection (Chasing Dreams and Princess of the Sands are published this month) each building on the previous episode. I predict they will be warmly welcomed and eagerly read as young ladies put themselves in the saddle alongside Ruby, Lexie and Kit and share the dream with them.