‘Nanberry : Black Brother White’ is historical fiction or ‘faction’, a genre where the author brings fact and fiction together seamlessly. It features real people plus interpretations of how they might have felt in 1789 and the years following Captain Arthur Phillip’s arrival with the First Fleet and the establishment of a new colony in Sydney Cove. In her concluding ‘Author’s Notes’, Jackie French details her research into the known historical facts and asserts that the ‘events in this book are as true as I can make them’.
There are three main characters. One is Surgeon John White, sent to the colony to look after its inhabitants’ health. Nancy Turner, a wrongly convicted convict, is also sent to the colony. She forms a relationship with Surgeon White, and they have an illegitimate son, Andrew. As the story opens, we meet the third main character, Nanberry, a young Aboriginal boy who has smallpox. He survives while most of his cultural group die. He is nursed back to health by Surgeon White who ‘adopts’ him. All three major characters are isolated from their cultural origins and each suffers the consequences.
This story requires a sophisticated reader. The characters’ stories are chronological with flashbacks. There are multiple points of view and main characters are portrayed from a third person point of view. The story is very powerful and poignant, giving the reader an understanding of these times and leaving them with a deep sense of regret. The reader is left with the feeling that If only people had respected and explored each other's culture rather than rejecting these, perhaps history might have revealed a different story. Here cultures explore, but at the same time, destroy the best parts of each other’s culture. This may be a novel for a family to read together or for a classroom to share and discuss.
‘Nanberry : Black Brother White’ was an Honour book in the CBCA Award for Younger Readers in 2012.