Spinning Tops and Gumdrops review: Edwin Barnard on Australian childhoods

Spinning Tops and Gumdrops

Edwin Barnard

NLA Publishing, $44.99

Their fresh-faces, cheeky grins and sullen scowls stare out at us across more than a century, preserved in sepia even though they are long gone: children with their governess posing in a billycart, adolescent girls in their finery being chaperoned by stern-faced elders, boys with guns playing war games and scruffy urchins in city streets. Their poignancy is well complemented by Edwin Barnard's text, which documents the details of everyday life for six generations of Australian children. In the 1870s as Ned Kelly gained infamy, children played at being bushrangers and police, while bullies in the school yard "wallarooed" their victims, ripping off their boots and stuffing their mouths with grass. Childhood finished early for those from struggling families, who found themselves working from the age of 14.. But for all the hardships, they knew freedoms and adventures undreamt of now.