Review: If Blood Should Stain the Wattle by Jackie French

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle by Jackie French
Series: Matilda Saga #6
Released: 21st November 2016
Published by: HarperCollins Australia
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Bought
Pages: 544
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
It's 1972 in Gibber's Creek, and across the nation, the catchcry is, 'It's time'. As political ideals drift from disaster to the dismissal, it's also time for Jed Kelly to choose between past love, Nicholas, the local Labor member, and Sam from the Halfway to Eternity commune.

It's time too for Matilda Thompson to face her ghosts and the life that took a young girl from the slums of Grinder's Alley to being the formidable matriarch of Gibber's Creek. During this period of extraordinary social change and idealism, modern Australia would be born. And although the nation would dream of a better world, it would continue to struggle with opposing ideas of exactly what that better world might be.

Jackie French, author of the bestselling To Love a Sunburnt Country, has woven her own experience of that time into an unforgettable story of a small rural community and a nation swept into the social and political tumult of the early 1970s. A time that would bear witness to some of the most controversial events in Australian history; and for Matilda, a time that would see her vision made real, without blood spilled upon the wattle.
There's something inherently comforting about coming back to a series you've been following for years. In the Matilda Saga, the characters are familiar, and so is the sense of place as Jackie French so deftly captures the Australian landscape. As time has gone by, in the almost ten years its been since I first picked up A Waltz for Matilda, I've found new ways to relate to the series and appreciate just how beautifully the stories have been woven. We've been brought from the early days of Federation when this series began, through to the 1970's in If Blood Should Stain the Wattle. In the decades that have passed for the families whose stories are covered in this saga, there's been a fair balance of heartache, resilience love for both people and the land which has bound generations to its soil.

As she grew older, she realised that loving this small portion of the landscape, home of so many of her ancestors, meant also loving each bit that was joined to it, and each that was joined to that, till finally it took in the whole world. 

What I've always loved about this sweeping saga is how it portrays the strength people find in their hardest times, the complexities of human relationships and what it takes to forge your own path in life. Matilda as the backbone of the series may have aged by this stage, but seeing her character develop has been a joy. A brilliant role model for younger readers just starting out with these books, it was fascinating to discover how she came to fulfill the roles of wife, mother, factory owner and community advocate. As new faces were introduced in each book and the focus shifted to their stories to share, Jackie French excelled in making sure that the connections between her characters were both meaningful and written with such heart. 

The political landscape takes a sharper focus in this novel, with the Gough Whitlam campaign influencing the small town of Gibber's Creek. If there's anyone who can make Australian history come to life on the page, it's Jackie French , and here it's clear that she's done her research, while even using some of her own experiences as inspiration. As the nation heads in a new direction, there is still an exploration of the scars left by war and the people left behind, with decisions to be made by Jed and others about what path in life will offer more than simply 'good enough'; a road to long-term fulfillment of one's potential.


The Matilda Saga will always hold a special place on both my shelves, and in my best memories of being a reader. It's wide range of issues explored means that it can be read by people of any age - there's sure to be a lesson or two in there we can put towards life beyond the pages.