Sunday 23 March 2014

The Rat Catcher's Daughter

The Rat Catcher’s Daughter by Pamela Rushby (HarperCollins, 1 April 2014)

The year is 1900 and the new century starts with the oldest disease – the Black Death. Thirteen-year-old Issy McKelvie is forced to leave school to start her first job as  a maid in an undertaking establishment. Issy’s entire family is now working and because her father’s job on the wharves is unreliable, he also works with his dogs as a rat catcher.

In 1900 the plague – the Black Death – arrives in Australia, spread by the fleas on rats. As the disease starts to take its human toll, panic grows. The rats must be exterminated.

Issy loathes both rats and her father’s pack of yappy, snappy, rat-killing terriers. But when her father becomes ill, Issy must join the battle to rid the city of the plague-carrying rats.

However, many things about the city’s control of the plague are not as they seem. As she discovers and pieces together various clues, Issy comes to realise that the real world is very different from the one she thought she knew.

From the author of the award-winning The Horses Didn’t Come Home, this is a fascinating story about a little-known event in Australia’s history.

“A brilliant and richly evocative insight into a fascinating and little-known aspect of our past”  Jackie French, Australian Children’s Laureate

Writing the story by Pamela Rushby

Some time ago, I was at an exhibition at the Museum of Brisbane and I noticed two old photographs: one of men with a pile of dead rats and another of men with packs of rat-killing terriers. The caption said the photographs dated from the plague epidemic of 1900. I had no idea that we had ever had the plague – the Black Death – in Australia. I did some research. And I found an amazing story: people forced into quarantine, a street barricaded off, the dead bundled into coffins packed with quicklime and taken down river to be buried on a remote mangrove island, accusations from the press and public of government bungling and failure to be prepared, rumours of the wealthy and influential bypassing the regulations, racism and panic in the streets. Quite a story! Who wouldn’t want to write about it?

Pamela Rushby

Other books by Pamela Rushby

When the Hipchicks Went to War (Hachette 2009) Notable Book CBCA Awards 2010,
Winner Ethel Turner Prize NSW Premier's Literary Awards 2010
The Horses Didn't Come Home (HarperCollins 2012), Short-listed Queensland Literary Awards 2012. Notable Book CBCA awards 2013
Flora's War (Ford St Publishing 2013)


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