I’m delighted to feature The Lost Blackbird the latest book in Liza Perrat’s Australian series. Released earlier in eBook format I’m pleased to say it’s now available in paperback as well.
The Lost Blackbird tells the story of Lucy and Charly Rivers who find themselves caught up in the child migrant scheme and sent to Australia, a promised land of ‘Oranges and Sunshine’. It’s a story that shines a light on a shameful period of recent Australian history.
Britain had a unique policy of using child migration as a solution to it’s child care issues. From the 1920’s an estimated 150,000 children of ‘good white stock’ were shipped to the ex colonies with the collaboration of child care charities and Church bodies.
Between 1947 and up to the 1970’s the Australian Parliament acknowledge that somewhere between 5,000-10,000 children, aged between 3 and 14 years old, were accepted under the child migrant scheme. To allow the children to make a fresh start, they were usually told their parents had died and that they had no other family. Many found themselves on remote farmsteads, used as cheap labour, or in state/church run institutions. At worst they faced a loveless existence combined with physical and/or sexual abuse. For the lucky few there was a loving family happy to accept them.
About the book:
London 1962. A strict and loveless English children’s home, or the promise of Australian sunshine, sandy beaches and eating fruit straight from the tree. Which would you choose?
Ten-year-old Lucy Rivers and her five-year-old sister, Charly are thrilled when a child migrant scheme offers them the chance to escape their miserable past.
But on arrival in Sydney, the girls discover their fantasy future is more nightmare than dream.
Lucy’s lot is near-slavery at Seabreeze Farm where living conditions are inhuman, the flies and heat unbearable and the owner a sadistic bully. What must she do to survive?
Meanwhile Charly, adopted by the nurturing and privileged Ashwood family, gradually senses that her new parents are hiding something. When the truth emerges, the whole family crumbles. Can Charly recover from this bittersweet deception?
Will the sisters, stranded miles apart in a strange country, ever find each other again?
A poignant testament to child migrants who suffered unforgivable evil, The Lost Blackbird explores the power of family bonds and our desire to know who we are.
Extract from The Lost Blackbird
London East End
The girl’s father lurches from the flat out onto the landing, where his little girl is playing.
‘Bleedin’ toys,’ he slurs.
At the sound of his voice, she jolts, the breath snaring in her chest. So captivated by her toy blackbird, turning the key on its underside to make it chirp, flap its wings and bob its tail, she’d not even heard him come stumbling onto the landing.
Her father jabs a finger at the wooden toy she now clutches to her chest. He falters, almost topples down the stairs, grabs the railing, steadies himself. She knows it’s the drink that makes him wobbly.
‘Bloody kid,’ he says, ‘always leaving yer stuff lyin’ around … want me to trip over yer toys and kill meself on them stairs, eh?’
He looms, a monster’s shadow, over his daughter hunched on the top step.
‘I didn’t leave my blackbirdie lyin’ —’ she starts, little fingers clenched around her beloved toy. But the rest of her words snag in her throat as her father bends down, jerks the toy from her grip.
‘No!’ She stretches up for it but he holds the bird too high. And the flash from his eyes-on-fire look ripples a fearful quake through her.
The little girl has never owned anything as precious as the blackbird, a present from one of the old people her mother looks after at nights, an ancient man who’d carved it from wood.
It’s the only real present she’s ever been given, this most beautiful bird in the world.
‘Please give back my blackbirdie,’ she sobs, but her father ignores the pleas, waves the toy above her head.
‘Stop yer grizzlin’, girl.’
She cries more.
Lips creasing into a nasty smirk, he flings the bird against the wall.
It clangs like her mother’s favourite teacup with the tiny roses all over it.
But Mum’s out at the shops. Please come home now.
The shock steals her breath. She struggles to get air in and out of her tight chest. Tears sting her eyes as she gazes at her precious bird lying on the ground, its neck twisted, both feet and one wing broken off.
Her father jerks towards the toy. Lifts a heavy boot, stamps it down. Grinds until the blackbird is squashed. All flat. Dead.
The girl knows she should keep still, quiet, but can’t help herself.
‘Why you broke my birdie?’
‘Teach yer not to leave stuff lyin’ around for me to trip over.’ His spittle sprays her brow.
‘But I didn’t —’
Her words are drowned again as he lunges at her, palm flat, taut, hair a dark tangle of wires sticking out of his head. Wiggly lines criss-crossing a purple nose. Herring-breath, mixed with what her mum calls the “whisky stink”, rushes at her in the sweep of his raised arm.
‘Enough of yer lip or you’ll get a beltin’ you won’t forget.’
And when he sways, grabs the rail again, angry face close to hers, the girl knows she has to leap away. Right now!
Younger, steadier, agile, she moves far quicker than he does.
His single shriek springs back from the concrete walls as his head clunks against the stair railing. And down he goes, thudding on each step. Eyes wide, staring. No more scary.
The little girl’s heartbeat thrums against her chest as she stands on that top step, panting hard, watching her father bounce and roll. Bounce, roll, bounce, roll, all the way to the bottom, where he has to stop since there are no more stairs, only the doorway to the courtyard that divides the blocks of flats: North, South, East, West.
The stairwell falls silent. The girl looks down at him, his top half sprawled almost across the doorway, legs splayed backwards, upwards. Angles she’s never seen before.
And in those seconds, the five-year-old’s heart no longer beats at all. The blood inside her turns icier than the January dusk outside. She can’t move; can’t speak. Can only stare down at her father’s unmoving body.
From inside the flat, the girl’s big sister also listens to the silence.
She heard their father staggering about the landing, flinched at his shouts and curses; knew Mum would be counting on her to go out there and defend her little sister. But she couldn’t. Just this once she could not face him again.
She cowered behind the closed door, eyes still sore and swollen, cheek still red and stinging from the belting he’d given her before he’d lurched outside and started having a go at her sister.
But silently, she willed her younger sister to shut her trap.
Shush, don’t make him angry.
She opens the door now, slowly, glimpses his body lying at the bottom of the steps and stares in horror at the dark halo widening around her father’s head.
She grabs her sister’s hand and together they sit on the top step and wait for their mother to get back from the shops.
The girls’ mother skitters into view on the ground floor. She almost trips over the twisted body of her husband.
‘Albert!’ She drops her shopping bag, slaps a palm over her gasp, gaze resting on the ragged circle of blood around his head. She jumps backwards so no blood seeps beneath her shoes.
Annie Rivers doesn’t bend down to check whether Albert Rivers is still alive, or dead. She turns her head, looks up at her girls sitting on the top step. ‘What the bleedin’ hell happened?’
‘Dad got too much of the drink in him again,’ her older daughter calls down.
‘He broked my birdie,’ the little one sobs.
Their mother is quiet for a moment, listening to her daughter’s small, fragile voice echoing down the stairwell. Shocked, surprised, because Albert’s so big compared with her.
How is it even possible?
But yes, she supposes that with the booze already making Albert unsteady, it is possible.
She picks up her shopping bag and without another glance at Albert’s bloodied head, the awkwardly-angled legs, she steps over him and hurries up to her girls.
She sits on the top step between them, clamps an arm around each girl’s shoulder. Tries not to dig her fingernails through the threadbare clothes into their skin. But she presses a little, needs them to listen.
‘Right, don’t you girls say nothin’ to no one, nobody must ever know what really ’appened, alright?’
She takes a breath, gives the younger girl a long stare. ‘But if anybody does ask, the pair of you are to say it was an accident.’
About the Author
Liza grew up in Australia, working as a general nurse and midwife. She has now been living in France for twenty-seven years, where she works as a part-time medical translator and novelist. You can read Liza’s Five on Friday feature here.
She is the author of the French historical The Bone Angel series. The first, Spirit of Lost Angels is set in 18th century revolutionary France. The second, Wolfsangel is set during the WW2 Nazi Occupation and the French Resistance, and the third novel, Blood Rose Angel is set during the 14th century Black Plague years. The series is available as a box set.
The first book in Liza’s new Australian series, The Silent Kookaburra was published in November, 2016, is a domestic noir, psychological suspense set in 1970s Australia. You can read my review here. The second in the series, The Swooping Magpie is currently under revision. My review is here. The Lost Blackbird is available as an E-book and as a paperback.
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We emigrated to Australia in 1964 and knew nothing about child migrants. My sister is a GP and has had quite a few patients, old chaps who were abused boy migrants.
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It’s unbelievable that children were subjected to this. It was hardly the Dark Ages it was in our life time.
Thank you so much Jill, for featuring The Lost Blackbird.
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Hope it helps to spread the word Lisa 😘