The dark history of God’s Own Country – Australia

It always makes me sad when I finish a book.  I have generally liked being with the people in it and it is ESPECIALLY sad when you finish a book that is the third part of a trilogy or the fourth part of a quartet.  I don’t know whether you read novels?  Probably you are too busy, but have you read Kate Grenville?Image

She is Australian but she is also very popular here too.  I have just finished Sarah Thornhill, the third part of the trilogy about the Thornhill family, based rather loosely on the story of Kate Grenville’s family and its relationship with Australia.  The first book in the trilogy, The Secret River was short listed for the Booker Prize and then won the Orange Prize, and starts not far from where I live in London at the water front by Southwark Bridge. But the boy done bad and got transported to the colonies (taking with him, his wife).  So that the rest of the book is about the early convict settlements in Sydney and how they make out. The Thornhill family finally get away and settle on the banks of the river he has found, the Hawkesbury.  The second story The Lieutenant continues tangentially and the one I have just read Sarah Thornhill goes back to the old story and sort of finishes it off.

Anyone at all interested in social history should read these books, partly because they are about Australia, but mostly because they are about the margins of society, who gets accepted and why, and who doesn’t.  It is also about recognising and truly accepting difference, and how one can deceive oneself.  The three books have some shocking revelations about early disfunctional relationships between the aboriginals and the white colonists, and considering that this is based on family history, pulls no punches.  Though Kate Grenville does make it clear also that these are novels.  But clearly there is a lot in them that is borne out by fact, whether directly connected to her family or others.

I know this because I have stayed on a sheep ranch where the son of the owner was clearly not boasting when he told us his grandfather (and other locals) had been out shooting aboriginals, and that his grandmother (and this is why he was telling us about it) had saved a ‘black baby’ which had been slung into a tree to hide it, brought it up and even taught it to read and write.  This Aboriginal child went on to join the Australian legal profession!  We sat there with our jaws clamped shut in shock.  There was no point in making any comment.  The sheep ranch was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to, and there was clear evidence that Aboriginal People had been there before us.  In the light of the evening sun you could see shadows of the paths leading towards the corroboree, still there, centuries old.

Another book by Kate Grenville, equally delightful, The Pursuit of Perfection, is a love story about an old bridge and is quite marvellous and quite different, but also about Australia, old and new.

Get reading!  I hope you will enjoy them.Image

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