Book reviews for Aussie teachers and their students.

Posts tagged ‘Maltese in Australia’

Book Review: “Teresa A New Australian” by Deborah Abela, Omnibus Book (2016)


Teresa is a school-aged child when Malta is sieged and bombed daily by the Germans during the Second World War. Malta, is decimated, its people left hungry as they await British ships containing precious supplies and military reinforcements. At the conclusion of the war comes the challenge of rebuilding. With accommodation in short supply, many Maltese decide that the possibility of a new life in Australia, funded by the Australian government, is their best option. Teresa travels by ship with her parents, leaving behind friends and family to a country where everything is new and she must navigate through the challenges of growing up in a place where she is acutely aware of her difference.

True stories never go out of fashion, and while this one is not exactly complete truth, it is real enough to speak to authentically to its audience. I confess that my interest in Teresa: A New Australian was mostly personal. Like Teresa, my father migrated to Australia in the 1950’s as a child escaping war ravaged Malta. Having heard his stories I was very keen to read this one, dedicated to Deborah Abela’s Nanna Teresa and inspired by the author’s father’s experience as a new migrant to this country. Stories such as this are immensely important because they speak of that place from which we have come. Writng as a Maltese Australian, I was acutely aware of the power for Abela’s story to bring to life the snippets of information I gleaned over the years from family members. For other Australians it serves as a stark reminder of the extent to which the White Australia Policy had influence during the 1950’s. Indeed, for new Australians today, it is a story with a message that is nothing less than hope-laden.
I appreciated the way that Abela allowed the unique identity of the Maltese people to emerge. Too often, Maltese people are grouped together with other Southern Europeans, which as Abela takes time to reveal, is an unfair assumption. The Maltese, unlike the Italians for example, have an enduring connection with the British Empire and many of them came to this country with a fair understanding of English and its customs. While this was apparent I couldn’t help but feel that Abela might have explored with even greater intimacy, the cultural context of Malta. Similarly, I respected Abela’s depiction of a 1950’s Australia, as being a land that abounds with opportunity, yet a place where an uncomfortable chasm lurks beneath the surface which is inherently racist.
Within the classroom, middle school students from grades 6-8 will have no difficulty in accessing this text. Written in clear prose, students should relish the opportunity to investigate the migration experience during this period of history. I imagine that students will have no difficulty in identifying (and juxtaposing) this experience with more recent and contemporary experiences of migration. In particular, rich discussion may evolve from an exploration of racism in Australia, identifying the origins and evolution of this up to today.
Teresa: A New Australian is the fourth book in a series exploring the stories of children immigrating to Australia. I recommend it for use in isolation as a shared or independent text with students. Similarly, it would work equally well as a reading circle option perhaps complemented by other books in the series.

Tanya Grech Welden

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