A beautiful Sunday morning - and several excited SCBWI members getting together for a Sketch and Scribble event on Cockatoo Island. Led by author Yvette Poshoglian, it was a fascinating combination of dark history and stunning scenery. Yvette spent three years researching the island's history, resulting in her novel Escape from Cockatoo Island . Published by Scholastic, it tells the story of eleven year old Olivia Markham, who is sent to the Biloela Girls Industrial School and Reformatory on Cockatoo Island in the middle of Sydney Harbour in 1878.
Here's an excerpt from one of my scribble stops. This was triggered from learning that girls were made to eat with their hands, and of course longed for freedom from dark working conditions and darker encounters with the older men building ships alongside their school...
Mercy eats like an animal.
Lukewarm, porridge spills from the corner of her mouth. 'Tomorrow we go home?' she says.
I reply as always. 'Yes, tomorrow we'll go home.'
The smell from the cookhouse turns my stomach. Everything turns my stomach these days, ever since...
I won't think of it. Not now. Not yet.
'Lizzie do ye' want the rest of your food?'
One blue eye sparkles with hope. The other flickers violently inward, seeing what only Mercy can know. I push my bowl, the metal meeting hers with a clang.
'You have it Mercy. A five year old needs all her strength. You'll grow up big and strong, you'll see.'
'Big and strong,' she repeats, before dipping her dripping fingers into her second helping. 'Tomorrow we go home?'
'Yes, Mercy tomorrow we go home.'
It is Sunday, a precious Sunday where God has heard my prayer and opened the gates for twenty whole minutes. The other girls shelter in the shade of a fig tree, its roots snaking out, one thick flowing embrace.
I find the sun as Captain Walker has instructed me, to soak up goodness against the damage of darkness. Mercy watches white caps riding on the harbour waters.
Captain Walker teaches me many things. He says it must be our secret.
'You are no ordinary girl, Lizzie,' he says. He instructs me to read letters one more time.
A B C
His calloused fingers drum impatiently on the desk.
D E F... He caresses my cheek.
These letters are my imprisonment.
Mercy laughs. 'Our boat there, Lizzy?' The wind lifts her grimy hair.
The stone beneath my fingers is cold despite the sun.
'Someday Mercy. Our boat will come.'
These letters will be our escape.
"You’ve always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself."