In times of high moral outrage at the barbarism of others, it is salutary to be reminded of the state-sanctioned viciousness of Australia’s past. Simon Barnard’s A–Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land does this brilliantly. Australian convict history is a crowded field, but Barnard’s detailed and vivid illustrations breathe fresh life into it. In addition to the many architectural cutaway drawings (hospitals, jails, female factories, commissariats, coalmines, shipyards, treadmills), there is a wealth of social detail: the bell-pull system for solitary confinement cells, a water canteen, cell graffiti, named dogs of the Colony, the tattoos of Francis Fitzmaurice. Indeed, it is the rupture of the human dimension into the totalising aspects of the system that surrounded convict transportation that give this book real intellectual heft. The effect is achieved through image and text, drawing on the stories of many lesser-known personalities of the period from a rich range of primary source material.
'A-Z of Convicts in Van Diemen's Land' by Simon Barnard
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Nigel Pearn is a teacher at Dodges Ferry Primary School, a beachside public school forty-five kilometres north of Hobart, on the top end of the Tasman Peninsula. He is currently working with teachers and students as part of an Aboriginal Expansion Program funded through Education Tasmania and the Federal Government’s Closing the Gap initiatives. Nigel is President of e:lit, the Primary English Teaching Association of Australia. He is interested in all aspects of students’ love of literature and growth in literacy, but has particular professional interests in school-level program evaluation and educational measurement; the interface between arts practices and literacy; building school/university partnerships; and the policy and practice of teacher professional learning. He is married to Sarah Kanowski, the editor of Island magazine, and is the father of two rambunctious, not-yet-school-aged children.
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