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Turning the Page, by Felicity Pulman

Synopsis

Life in 1851 on Springfield Station, a large Australian sheep station, is simple for 11 year old Maggie. She works with her mum in the station laundry, doing all the washing for the Faithfull family, owners of the property. The work is hard and hot, but Maggie finds time in her days to take in the details of the surrounding land. She finds the flies, mosquitoes and fleas a bother but accepts the fact that they have their reasons for existence.

Maggie has a thirst for knowledge but this thirst is hard to quench because she can neither read nor write. A special opportunity to better herself comes along when Mrs Faithfull requests that Maggie goes to the 'big house' to help look after the Faithfull children. Maggie's mum is proud that her daughter has the opportunity. However, she's sad that Maggie will be away from her for much of the time.

When Maggie enters the Faithfull family home for the first time, she is entranced by the luxury and abundance of books. She sets about the task of child-minding only to soon discover that this work is just as hard as the work in the laundry. One pleasure she finds amid the daily toil is listening to Mrs Faithfull read stories to her children. Maggie is transported by the magic of Robin Hood, the Pied Piper and Oliver Twist. Her new environment is disrupted when she causes an accident while carrying out a simple task for Mrs Faithfull. This leads to her being sent back to her mum, along with her dreams of learning to read and write.

All seems hopeless when a chance for redemption presents itself in the task of minding Miss Florence, Mrs Faithfull's new baby. For Maggie, this responsibility takes on an unforeseen dimension when danger creeps in. A split-second decision is called for and Maggie has to take charge. She finds the necessary courage; her actions save the baby and set her on the path to learning to read and write.

Discussion questions

  • Maggie's mum is both happy and sad that a great opportunity has come along for Maggie. Why would her mum feel this way? What sort of conflicting thoughts would her mum have?
  • Maggie listens to Mrs Faithfull reading stories to her children. Her favourite is Oliver Twist. Why would Maggie be drawn more to that story, and less to Robin Hood or the Pied Piper?
  • The story is set in Australia in 1851, 50 years before Federation. What would have been the main differences in life in Australia then compared to after Federation? What would life be like now in Australia if Federation had not happened?
  • When Maggie prepares to go up to the Faithfull family home, or 'big house', she tries on her best dress only to discover that she's growing out of it. What does this say about the circumstances surrounding Maggie's life on the sheep station?
  • Maggie has doubts about her ability in her new role helping to look after the Faithfull family children. Why does she have these doubts? How would you have felt in the same situation?

Classroom activities

1. Investigate fashions on the land

  • Ask your students to access the Faithfull family collection via the National Museum of Australia's online Collections search.
  • Have them find the two-piece full-length satin dress. Using the Fashion on the land worksheet (PDF 188kb), have your students make a drawing of the dress in the left-hand column.
  • Have them closely examine the dress and consider what it would have been like to wear this dress on the Springfield sheep station.
  • Encourage them to consider the practicality, level of comfort and durability of the dress; they can make notes in the spaces around the dress drawing.
  • Ask them to compare the dress to what they think women wear on the land in Australia these days.
  • Encourage them to identify the types of clothing, materials used in them and their appropriateness for wearing around a sheep or cattle station.
  • Have them draw their interpretation of this clothing in the right-hand column, once again making notes in the space around their drawing. If students prefer, they can use magazine image cut-outs in creating their interpretation of contemporary women's clothing on the land.

2. Investigate architectural design

  • Ask your students to investigate the climate of the Southern Tablelands of NSW where Springfield is located.
  • Have them gather information on temperature, rainfall and extremes of weather that may be experienced in the region.
  • Once they have that information, ask them to look at the photograph of the Big House at Springfield station that's part of the Faithfull family collection at the National Museum of Australia.
  • Working in pairs or small groups, have your students analyse the suitability of the design of the Big House in regard to the Southern Tablelands climate.
  • Encourage them to consider the function of the house design in regard to heating, cooling and light access. The house is from the Victorian period in Australian architectural history; ask your students to gather some information regarding architectural design from that period and see what period features are incorporated in the Big House.
  • Have the small groups report to the class and encourage the students to discuss what changes may have occurred in the design of station homes since the Victorian period.
  • Your students might like to use this website as a source of information:

    archicturewiki
    http://www.architecturewiki.com.au/HistoryofAustralianArchitecture

3. Investigate the sheep grazing industry

  • Maggie worked in the laundry at Springfield station. Ask your students to research the sheep grazing industry of nineteenth century Australia and look for the other tasks required to keep a sheep station running.
  • Have your students use the Sheep, land and labour worksheet (PDF 367kb) to compile a list of the tasks they find. Ask them to list the task type, any technology used and the modern equivalent of that task, if it exists.
  • Encourage them to also imagine what sheep grazing may be like in the year 2151. They might consider climate change, technology, animal science and the increase or decrease in the national and international demand for wool.
  • Have them use the reverse side of the worksheet to record their responses to the future sheep grazing concept. They might like to use both text and images in their responses.

4. Investigate the language of the era

  • Have your students imagine that they are Maggie at 25 years of age and that she is now living in Sydney in 1865. Ask them to compose a letter from Maggie to Mrs Faithfull at Springfield station.
  • Encourage them to consider the contents of the letter eg news of life in Sydney at that time, descriptions of trips she has taken, her working life and her reminiscences of life at Springfield station.
  • Your students will need to investigate Sydney of that time in order to gain some idea of what Maggie may say in her letter.
  • Have them also investigate the style of the language of the era so that their writing has a more authentic tone.

Book details

Turning the Page
by Felicity Pulman
illustrated by David Cox

ISBN 978 1876944 70 4
198mm x 130mm, 64pp.
RRP $11.95

Released December 2008

Purchase from our online shop – browse to Books > Children's

Resources

Collection record – 19th-century child's copybook

Worksheets: