Kim Kane, When the Lyrebird Calls, Allen & Unwin, Nov 2016, 320pp., $16.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781741758528
When the Lyrebird Calls is a time travel story in which 12 year old Madeleine, who was staying with her strongly feminist, health conscious, socially justice aware, home renovator grandmother, is swept back into the class conscious 1900s. Federation is just beginning; Aboriginal people have few or no rights; wealthy families have overworked servants and women cannot vote.
Madeleine finds herself staying with the wealthy Williamson family, where females deal with their lack of power in many ways. The daughters deal with their lack of power: by searching for a husband (Bea); pretending to be a boy (Charlie); being childlike and adorable (Imo). Gert, who is clever and Madeleine’s protector, is mostly ignored. Their mother is clinically depressed after the death of her sons and seeks solace through spiritualism. Auntie Henrietta, who is an emancipist, must keep the more extreme of her activities quiet. The terrifying nanny, who is only called Nanny, lives by rigid rules, which she makes sure are closely followed.
The themes in When the Lyrebird Calls are a little obvious and Madeleine’s verbal blunders in her new world are a little too often, but the story is still charming and educational. At least, nearly always charming – the opening story is definitely grisly – an indication on what girls might do when they feel powerless.
When the Lyrebird Calls is suitable for children aged 10 to 13, and a very good way of introducing Australian history to this age group.
Reviewed by Katy Gerner