Book Review: “Good Luck, Dear Girl: A turn of the century romance” by Truda Olson (@EasternRegional)

Good Luck, Dear Girl: A turn of the century romance (2019) by Truda Olson

Truda Olson’s Good Luck, Dear Girl: A turn of the century romance is the result of a meticulously researched family history project. It is a valuable text on the history of migration to Australia and New Zealand.

The book tells the life story of Duncan Puckle, the author’s grandfather. In 1884, at the age of 18, he was sent by relatives from England to work on a sheep farm in New Zealand.

Duncan later purchased his own farm and was very active in Pahiatua, a small rural town in southwestern North Island. His opinion pieces and involvement in community affairs often appeared in local and regional publications. This provided ample material for the author to piece together Duncan’s activities and aspirations.

But the book features much more than one man’s life. For example, there is a brief history of migration from England to New Zealand, including a comparison of the sea voyage by sailing ship and steamship.

Interestingly, in contrast to Australia being initially envisaged by the British Government as a penal colony, New Zealand was promoted as a desirable destination from the start. The author quotes John Murray Moore’s 1890 book New Zealand for the Emigrant, Invalid and Tourist:

“A young, healthy, single man, of good morals and principles, energetic and ready to ‘rough it’ with a handicraft of some kind at which he is expert, is the type of emigrant that will succeed in New Zealand. If he leaves old England with hope in his bosom, faith in his heart, and love to his fellow-man beaming from his eyes, always ready to do a good turn, handy and hard-working, and skilled in his own particular trade, he will not fail of getting remunerative employment.”

The author further supplies a vivid sketch of the lived experiences of middle-class migrants in New Zealand in the late 19th century. These include but are not limited to their performing arts, sports, recreational activities, and the so-called “acclimatisation societies” that worked hard to introduce numerous species from England to the colony.

Then, in 1902, Duncan married Gertrude Moore (not related to John Murray Moore), the author’s grandmother, whose family migrated from Wales to New Zealand in 1876. Gertrude was an accomplished writer, musician, actress and singer. At the age of 20, she met Henry Lawson when the famous Australian writer briefly visited New Zealand in 1894.

A long, beautiful poem written by Gertrude in 1897 is included in the book. In the author’s words: “Well, if that’s not a poignant cry from a wounded heart, I don’t know what is.”

Finally, the author traces Duncan and Gertrude’s life in Australia after the couple relocated to Tasmania in 1907 and then to Victoria in 1911. Their hobbies, activities and social engagements in Somerville and Bendigo shed much light on Australian attitudes towards foreign decoration and design in the early 20th century.

In short, Good Luck, Dear Girl is an example of diligent and disciplined family history research. The writing is engaging and informative, the presentation exquisite and highly enjoyable. Job well done.

Note: This book review was originally published under the title “Family history a good read” by Ranges Trader Star Mail, May 31, 2022, P.19.


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