Ruth Park is perhaps a somewhat neglected Australian author (well near Australian at least). And neglected by me at least til now. Sadly Ruth died last year at the grand old age of 93. I'd heard of a fair few of her books over time- The Muddle-Headed Wombat, Harp in the South, Playing Beatie Bow being some of her most famous. But had never read any til now. Her Miles Franklin winner Swords and Crowns and Rings appears to have drifted into the out of print wasteland.
Playing Beatie Bow is the story of Lynette, a 14 year old girl who prefers to be known as Abby since her father left. Abby lives with her mother Kathy in the historic Rocks area of Sydney- a beautiful part of the world, nestled as it is between the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, site of some of the earliest European settlement in Australia. Kathy runs a second hand shop in a lane in Paddington.
Abby and Kathy live in a fictional high rise in the Rocks, two younger children live next door. The nasty and horrible Victor and the downtrodden preschooler Natalie. Abby takes Natalie to the local park where the children like playing a game called Beatie Bow. Beatie Bow is a famous ghost who rises from the dead, and chases children. There are similar games the world over I suspect. Natalie notices a funny "little furry girl" at the park. Abby follows her, and things change forever.
I really enjoyed the historical aspects of this book, which is partly set in the Sydney of 1873. I learnt so much about one of my favourite cities in the world. I particularly enjoyed learning about the Ragged School Movement.
And I loved being reminded of the hydrofoils that used to cruise Sydney Harbour! They were always a highlight of childhood visits to Sydney. And I'd completely forgotten about them.
Ruth Park certainly wasn't afraid of the dark side, and there is one particular part that was quite frightening and almost sordid. It is perhaps all tied up a bit too neatly at the end but I think we can forgive Ruth Park that. Jane Austen always wraps things up in the last few pages too.