Rush OH! – Shirley Barrett

Rush OH! is the battle cry when one sees a whale – a call to arms to run to the boats.rush oh

Set in the early 1900s in New South Wales, Rush OH! is a snippet of history when whalemen along the Australian coast would rush the waters to lance their fortunes. Unlike in America, the whalemen were not gone from their homes for years at a time, but instead lived along the coast to chase the whales near shore.

This is the tale of the life Mary Davidson, the 19-year-old daughter of a brave whaling captain, who lives among the oarsmen boarding in her home. Mary is learning her role in the family after the death of her mother: she must cook and feed the crew, take care of her younger siblings, and parcel out her feelings for one new whaler in particular, John Beck. Rush OH! is a coming-of-age tale based loosely on historical anecdotes from the area, including one Killer whale named Tom who assisted the whalemen in herding and trapping the whales.

There are humorous stories of the whale crew, but there are also some dark corners in the backgrounds of these men. The feast-or-famine life of whaling is full of hardships, and  often attracts men who have nothing left to lose.

I appreciated the care taken to create an atmosphere in this story: the description of the flensing of the whales, the excitement and fear of the whale hunt, and also the depictions of the Australian coastline with local flora and fauna. The descriptions and inclusions are necessary to the story without being pedantic, which makes for a compelling setting. The characters also represent the differences of interpretation of whaling and how the fear, adrenaline, and desperation can affect people in different ways.

This is a quick read sprinkled with small illustrations that add to the vintage feel of the book. I really enjoyed this one.

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