Ursula Dubosarsky's The Golden Day is beautifully written and the story will haunt you for quite a while.
It opens with a class of eleven small girls being led by their teacher, Miss Renshaw into some gardens for a spontaneous excursion. The book is set in the late sixties, and opens on the day that Ronald Ryan was hanged. The girls and their teacher go to the gardens ostensibly to 'think about death'. Miss Renshaw is clearly a bit of a hippie:
She wore a drooping crimson dress with a geometrical pattern of interlocking squares and triangles in green and purple. Around her neck on a string of leather swung a tear-shaped amber bead that glinted in the sunlight.
They go to the gardens quite often, at least twice a week, so that they can write poetry and listen to Morgan the gardener/ poet/ conscientious objector who Miss Renshaw is interested in. But this excursion is different. Morgan leads them to some caves by the sea and what happens next, (which I am not going to spoil) affects them all.
|Charles Blackman's Floating Schoolgirl|
The narrative is multi-layered and is rich because of this. Each of the chapters is titled after one of Charles Blackman's "Schoolgirl" series. Dubosarsky writes that this painting, Floating Schoolgirl was one of the inspirations for the novel, but there are also autobiographical, musical and film references and sources of inspiration. Picnic At Hanging Rock is probably the film that I was reminded of the most while reading.
The young narrative voices in the text are engaging, if naive and sometimes a bit frustrating. Cubby and Icara are the two main characters. There are some scenes where I was genuinely frightened for Cubby, so that tells you how engaging and cleverly written they are.
Finally, as a teacher there were moments that made me snicker; at the freedom of the teacher to take the girls wandering through the gardens, to the school's response and the letters sent to parents. In schools, the more things change, the more things stay the same.
One more thing! The cover is lovely and the inside front and rear covers are fabulous. They are yellowing newspaper articles that provide context for the historical periods. In the front cover there are articles about Ronald Ryan, and in the back cover the drowning of Harold Holt and the sacking of Whitlam. The author's website has some excellent resources for further investigation.
So, definitely get your hands on this clever and haunting novel. Enjoy the mysterious ride.
Five out of five hoots!