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Congratulations to Kay Crabbe on winning the Indigenous Children category of the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards for 2016. We are proud to be promoting good books for all children to read.

        Gaenor Dixon, National President of Speech Pathology Australia.

 *****  Book of the Year Award  2016   - Speech Pathology Australia

best book for Language and Literacy Development  - Indigenous Books for Children 

***       Notable Book of the Year 2017  -  Younger Readers  -  Children's Book Council of Australia

Cover design by
   Debra Billson
Published by
Allen & Unwin Australia



Describes the life of the Torres Strait Islanders vividly; the food they grow, catch and prepare; how they make canoes, jewellery and mats and the dangers of diving. Sario’s mother has damaged lungs from diving, his sister’s hearing has been affected and when Sario finally gets his wish to dive in a breathing helmet he is nearly killed.  

Research is thorough and results in a very educational novel. 

Includes a timeline, a glossary of the expressions and a map.

I learnt a great deal while reading The Pearl-shell Diver.  

Teacher’s Notes can be found on the Allen & Unwin website.


                      Reviewer: Katy Gerner for Reading Time

                                      The Children's Book Council of Australia  



Very clear portrayal of life in the Torres Strait in the late 19th century.

Language used built up clear images of the people, their respective responsibilities within their clans - family networks.

Interesting aspects re fishing hunting and cooking marine life, and local vegetables introduced into story. The fact that when needed natural remedies were available added  another challenge to any stereotypical attitudes towards native people.

The notion of indentured natives being used and at times abused is a historical fact. Pacific Islanders, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders being abducted or working as slaves will surprise some students.

The writing is clear and descriptions of the islander life and working opportunities are graphic. The interweaving of facts, local language and locations are excellent.The map of the Torres Strait Islands, Cape York and the Papua New Guinea adds authenticity to the story. Author’s Note adds a solid historical background, which teachers will find useful as will the Timeline of the Torres Strait.The Mabuiag Glossary will give students an opportunity to get into the spirit of the story. Any islander students will have a real claim on the book.

The book would be a wonderful central point for planning an integrated unit of work. It has everything, cultural knowledge, history, mapping, moral questions re employment, Work Health Safety issues of the pearling industry. Last but not least, a hero who overcomes his fears, becomes a success, and befriends his enemy.


Report from Pat Priestly (Catholic Education Curriculum Consultant (retired)

Past School Principal & teacher in the Torres Strait islands 

Highly recommended. Australian history. Federation. Pearl diving. Race relations. White Australia Policy. Sario lives and works on a remote island in the Torres Strait. He dives for pearl shell and sea cucumber, to sell at the markets so he and his family can get an income. Unscrupulous lugger captains note his ability and promise him more money if he goes with them to learn to dive with a helmet. At first he refuses but the old men of his clan push him to earn more money for the community, and when his mother, once a diver, now with breathing problems, becomes worse and must be moved to Thursday Island for treatment, he has no choice.

But the promises come to nothing.  ... along the way he learns a lot about the industry he works for, and hears from others about the rules concerning pearl fishing, an industry soon under threat, and about Federation, the amalgamation of the states into the Commonwealth of Australia, soon to take place.

Readers will love reading about Sario and his life, and adventures, but also learn about bullying and racism, the White Australia Policy, Federation and the Torres Strait Islands, a setting rarely seen in children's books.

Fran Knight Literature Reviewer

Readplus  South Australia

Kay Crabbe’s tale of the historical exploitation of the Torres Strait and Pacific Islanders - as the pearl-shell industry burgeoned in the late 1800s - is given a human face in the struggles of her protagonist, Sario. Whilst Sario has the wisdom to appreciate his culture and a deep desire to maintain it, he also has the curiosity that beckons him to experience deep-sea diving, despite his resentment towards the owners of the pearl luggers who were willing to exploit the vulnerability of his people. Although Sario’s path to manhood alone could have carried the reader along on this journey, Crabbe’s extensive research provides a captivating historical dimension that could otherwise have been overlooked, or ignored, in our Australian history. Moreover, the daily lives, the social structures, values and thinking of the islander peoples are opened up to the reader along with a smattering of their language, all helping the reader to step into their shoes and see things from their perspective. Everything is seen through Sario’s eyes, even though the book is written in the third person. His thoughts and character are transparent as he observes the impact of “the ghost man” on his people and realises that it is only a matter of time before he will be dragged away from his father’s stories, his mother’s singing and his cousins’ playful trickery to serve the white men – “men who force small children to dive for shell, then pay them with sweets and keep the money for themselves.” When Sario’s father is taken to dive in his place by the white trader, “Sario’s belly squirms like a drum full of eels.” From this moment, Sario is driven to restore his father to his rightful place at the head of his clan and to shoulder his burden of responsibility in earning enough to provide the medicine his mother needs after a lifetime of diving. So begins Sario’s journey into the white man’s world in search of a cure for his mother and a living to support his people. He could not have anticipated the compromises and the courage he would need to succeed in a world where he is dispensable and the white man is king. This is a world in which “coloureds don’t get a vote.” Even Hiroshi, his greatest rival for supremacy as a pump diver, is in a better position than Sario because “Britain is an ally of Japan” and Hiroshi is likely to be favoured despite “the White Australia rule.” Whilst the reader is absorbed in the personal challenges Sario faces, the overlay of historical events and policies that challenge the new colony of Australia and impact Sario’s life, and the life of his people, enable young readers to grasp a stronger understanding of Australia’s journey to nationhood. Crabbe’s book is multifaceted. It is culturally instructive, historically critical, yet also hopeful in the reconciliatory conclusion that sees arch enemies of different cultures working to build a future together in a new nation. Best of all, her protagonist is not perfect, but his imperfections and his sincerity bind us to him so strongly that we willingly enter the deep seas of his life and walk the sea floor with him without wanting to come up for air because we know this is a character from whom we can learn about our humanity.

Julie Wright

Secondary School English Teacher

Adelaide. South Australia

There are quite a few novels out there about the history, trials and tribulations of indigenous Australians, some by indigenous Australian, but not a lot about the Torres Strait Islanders. I found this intriguing; they have quite a history of their own. With a lot of Islanders as students at my school, I found it especially interesting.
The novel is short, only 184 pages, but the characters are as well drawn as they could have been in a much longer book. Sario's new friends are people the reader comes to know and care about in the short time they appear. As history, it works well, and teaches us about a place and people we might not have known about before.

Suitable for late primary/early secondary students, medium level readers.


Reviewer: Sue Bursztynski for The Great Raven Blog

The Pearl-shell Diver, told from Sario’s point of view, is a perfect introduction to Torres Strait Island life in the late 19th century. Readers of all ages will enjoy this tale. Some will be immersed its the action and suspense, others will be entranced by details of island living, while others will turn the pages to find out what happens to Sario, his family and friends.
I sincerely hope The Pearl-shell Diver is the first in a series. It opens the door to so many new points of view for this time. The Pearl-shell Diver is a definite keeper.

Reviewer:  Susan Whelan for Kids' Book Review

Kay Crabbe sets this scene so well. I felt like I was there in the turbulent waters of the Torres Strait.

Sario is a determined and plucky young boy who endears himself to the reader because of his qualities but also because of his human foibles.

I really felt for Sario and the children exploited by ruthless and greedy adults in positions of power.

Yet for all the hardship in The Pearl-shell Diver there are some strong friendships and fun times, and hope for the future.

This historical novel for children aged 9+ would invite important discussions in the classroom or home about family, history, indigenous culture and relationships.

Reviewer: Dee White for DeeScribe Writing

The Pearl-shell Diver intrigued me from the first page. At dawn on a remote Torres Strait island in 1898 we meet 13-year-old Sario as he and his friend head out fishing in their canoe. They spot a white man’s pearl lugger in the distance, an increasingly common sight, and Sario is uneasy. This white man has his eye on Sario, who is young, strong and a skilled pearl-shell diver. Readers, aged 9-13 years, will devour this fast-paced book, experiencing the excitement, frustration and thrill of danger as they follow Sario’s journey. The characters are three-dimensional and believable.

Kay Crabbe has integrated the history of the Torres Strait Islands into her story and captured vivid sensory images that bring the area to life.

I would recommend The Pearl-shell Diver as a fast-paced, enjoyable story for children, but adults will enjoy it, too.

A valuable and comprehensive history resource for classroom teachers.


Reviewer:  Ann Harth for Buzz Words

Writers and Illustrators Magazine for Children

Ann Harth: author, editor & manuscript assessor

An extremely enjoyable story and a lovely way to tell the history and relate the culture of Torres Strait Islands. Executed with empathy in a non- preaching manner. I had huge sympathy for Sario, his family and the loss of the peaceful way of life for the islanders.  So well demonstrated the corruption of their collective innocence. I felt enriched by gaining the degree of understanding imparted in the text. Subtle but strong.The dilemma they faced in maintaining culture in the face of whiteman's ways was visceral.


Facebook comment by Diane Finlay

Children's Writer



It may be one of the most beautiful and intriguing parts of our nation yet too few of us know anything about the Torres Strait Islands, its inhabitants and culture. So read on to find out about a rip-roaring new historical adventure set in this remarkable part of Australia and why The Pearl-Shell Diver is a must-read for your students.

Carolyn Walsh
Educational Marketing Co-ordinator

The Pearl-Shell Diver features everything you need for a class novel: great story, evocative writing, historical accuracy and relevant themes - including connection to country, environmental sustainability, Federation and the White Australia Policy, racism, courage and resilience.


And although a valuable resource for any time during the school year, The Pearl-Shell Diver will prove particularly useful for discussions about National Reconciliation Week (27 May-3 June), Mabo Day (3 June), NAIDOC Week, 3-10 July) and International Day of the World's Indigenous People (9 August).

Ages: 9-13.


This book gives us a fabulous insight into Australian history around the turn of the 20th Century.

An interesting and insightful read and a great discussion starter for upper primary classrooms.


Reviewed by Rob

Manager Lamot Standing Orders

Textbook Supplier Australia

This book beguiled me from the first glimpse of that aqua blue cover with the 19th century background graphics and the leaping young figure. 
Sario's journey from wanting to stay with his family to realising his dream of walking on the ocean floor encompasses his love and loyalty of family with frustration, fear, cruelty, unfairness, bullying as well as the joy of friendship and camaraderie. The shark attack showed his helplessness in the face of greed. 
The research that weaves throughout this story taught me historical events whilst entertaining. 
In a nutshell, this is an age old story of one group of people using another group of people for their own 
gain. Sario's sick mother and deaf sister are both products of unscrupulous past dive bosses. The fascinating story that tied it all together makes it well worth reading. 

Reader comment from Kate Poole (teacher)

State Library of Queensland Bookshop

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