REVIEW: Alfred’s War by Rachel Bin Salleh & illustrated by Samantha Fry

Published: 2nd April 2019

Publisher: Magabala Books

Pages: 40

Format: Hardback picture book (borrowed from the library)

RRP: $19.99

5/5 Stars

SHORTLISTED – 2018 Speech Pathology Australia’s Book of the Year (Eight to Ten Years category)

LONGLISTED – 2019 Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIAs) Small Publishers’ Children’s Book of the Year

Alfred’s War is a powerful story that unmasks the lack of recognition given to Australian Indigenous servicemen who returned from the WWI battlelines. Alfred was just a young man when he was injured and shipped home from France. Neither honoured as a returned soldier or offered government support afforded to non-Indigenous servicemen, Alfred took up a solitary life walking the back roads – billy tied to his swag, finding work where he could.

Rachel Bin Salleh’s poignant narrative opens our hearts to the sacrifice and contribution that Indigenous people have made to Australia’s war efforts, the true extent of which is only now being revealed.

Alfred’s War by Rachel Bin Salleh and illustrated by Samantha Fry is a beautiful, but a heartbreaking tribute to the forgotten Aboriginal Australian soldiers who fought gallantly alongside their company only to receive no recognition for their services.

Alfred is Aboriginal. Not counted as a citizen, and with very little rights, he is restricted to the outskirts of cities and strict rules of living that separated him from society.  When the Great War (World War I) broke out, Alfred enlists to fight for his country. When wounded in combat, he returns to Australia, to find his service is neither recognised or celebrated like that of his company.

Rachel Bin Salleh’s narrative is heartbreaking true for way too many Australians. Not only were Indigenous Australians not recognised as citizens, or even people, at the time, their brave service abroad during the wars meant little when they return to Australia. During the wars, Aboriginal soldiers were treated as equals, only to return home to be ignored and forgotten. They were even excluded from post-war services dedicated to war veterans and establishments designed to help them settle into civilian life.

Salleh has taken great care to craft her story in such a way that there is no bias evident. Her story is simple and straight, telling the facts and experiences of those involved. Despite the subject matter, there are no emotional embellishments or bashing of the other side in order to get her point across. Instead, we have a story that aims straight and true and speaks openly and honestly about a forgotten group of soldiers who deserved the same recognition of their comrades.

The language used is clear, simple and concise with no more than two sentences used across a double-page spread. This combined with Salleh’s unbiased view, allows the story to resonate strongly with children of all ages, especially when combined with Fry’s illustrations.

Samantha Fry’s watercolour illustrations are stunning in their own right, but when combined with Salleh’s text, they transform into a poignant, but heartbreaking, story that is sure to capture your attention and stay with you long after the final page has been turned. Her illustrations use the full double-page spreads to tell their story and they and they are breathtaking to behold.

Alfred’s War is a touching and poignant story, reminding readers all of ages how lives were changed by the war, and the hardships Aboriginal people have faced for centuries in Australia. It is a story that every Australian needs to read so that the experience is never repeated again.

To purchase a copy of Aldred’s War, visit the following online retailers:

Magabala Books | ANGUS & ROBERTSON | Booktopia | Dymocks | QBD |

to learn more about Rachel Bin Salleh, visit the following social media pages:

Magabala Books 


To learn more about Samantha Fry, visit the following social media pages: 

Instagram | Magabala Books

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