Another stout-hearted tyke in a tight, out-of-the-way spot--but like 13-year-old Jonathan Cole, a veteran of the California gold rush, readers will find 1851 gold-rush Australia ""a strange land, not easily understood."" Jonathan's widower father, unlucky in California, has gold fever and can't stop; so now he and undersize Jonathan are in dismal Ballarat--where the ""blackfellows"" are free but mistreated; most of the citizens are unashamed ""convicts""--barred, however, from returning home; and the Queen's justice brooks no maybes. Still, the one person who seems ""real"" to Jonathan, ingratiating American digger David Mackay, runs off with Pa's gold. Then, things Australian start to look up. An aboriginal boy, Prince Billy, saves Jonathan from a leech-infested lake and, to his delight, takes his missing front tooth as a sign of manhood; grog-tent-keeper Molly Quinn patches him up after a bruising and tends when his eyes become infested with the dread sandy blight; even the two fearsome ""old lags"" (who walk oddly, from having worn leg irons) on the nearby claim, veiled Liam and gruff Delehanty, turn out to be comfortable, plain-spoken sorts. In the course of events, Jonathan's feckless father dies and mainstay Molly is killed; but Jonathan will persevere--to find a huge nugget for Liam and Delehanty, and start back to the States. The plot is clearly secondary, though, to Beatty's usual abundance of well-integrated lore.