Not the same sky

By 1848 famine has ravaged Ireland, and London remains undecided about what to do. A shortage of female labour in Australia offers a kind of solution and so, over the following two years, more than 4000 Irish girls are shipped across vast oceans to an unimaginable world in the new colony. On Sunday 28 October 1849, one of these ships, the Thomas Arbuthnot, sets sail from Plymouth with a cargo of girls under the care of Surgeon-superintendent Charles Strutt.

Not the Same Sky tells the story of Honora, Julia, Bridget and Anne. It observes them on the voyage, examining their relationship of trust with Charles Strutt, and follows them from Sydney as they become women of Australia, negotiating their new lives as best they can. A stark, poetic intensity gives these young women historical importance and human presence in an elegant and subtle novel suffused with humour.

This historical novel did not emotionally engage to some of our group’s complete satisfaction. It was thought the characters not ‘fleshed out’ enough and they held little substance for the reader. There was also the view that Charles Strutt was a little unrealistic, as was the voyage itself … things seemed just a little to pleasant and easy for the girls.

There were those who disagreed of course, stating that by the mid 1800s they had largely improved the route to Australia and the conditions in which free immigrants travelled.

Our conversation led to the potato famine and the mass exodus from Ireland. Well read as our group is, everyone was aware of this tragic event, but some of us did not realise these young women were brought out to help fill the shortage of female labour in a new and developing Australia.

Ethical or not, these girls faced a frightening and unfamiliar future and most of our group felt the author did an admirable job of mixing fact with fiction, even if the characters lacked a certain amount of essence.

If Australian history is your thing, you will enjoy this novel from a knowledgeable, yet very readable author.