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The White Earth

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  599 ratings  ·  68 reviews
After his father’s death, young William is cast upon the charity of an unknown great-uncle, John McIvor. The old man was brought up expecting to marry the heiress to Kuran Station—a grand estate in the Australian Outback—only to be disappointed by his rejection and the selling off of the land. He has devoted his life to putting the estate back together and has moved into t ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published January 1st 2007 by Soho Press (first published 2004)
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Best Modern Australian Literature
59th out of 300 books — 361 voters
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The Miles Franklin Literary Award
12th out of 54 books — 22 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,083)
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Pauline
A Disturbing Novel by Australian Author who received the Miles Franklin Award in 2005.Andrew McGahan wrote about an area where he grew up and describes the area with great feeling.
The book is Motivated by the Mabo Legislation and deals with reactions to this based on ownership of the land and consequences for the property Ownwers. It delves into Aboriginal History and Folklore and makes a very powerful observation about LandRights which I found very thought provoking.
Throughout the book images o
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Kiwiflora
The winner of the 2005 Australian literary prize, the Miles Franklin Literary Award, this is a stunning novel set in the Darling Downs, a diverse farming region west of Brisbane. Prior to European settlement, because of its lush indigenous grasses,the region was important as a food source and culturally to the local Aborigine tribes. The arrival of the European farmers in the 1820s and 1830s put a stop to that, and the Downs quickly became the food basket for the region. Farming communities and ...more
Steve
3.5 stars. I'm rather conflicted about this book. I could not put it down for the first half of it, but then it petered out, started moving very slowly and seemed to lose its way. The two overarching story lines came together in a rather interesting climax, but then the book just finished with no real resolution, which was quite disappointing.
Fiona
Not a bad read - won the Miles Franklin. A bit soapy writing sometimes a bit clunky, and the boy of 9 yrs who is central character possibly can't be as wise as this quite as quickly. 3rd person voice a bit wobbly in other words. It's dealing with Mabo though plus a "Thornbirds" type twisted landed family theme so will be interested to see how it ends (other than in tears which is my bet)....

OK finished it now. Way weird attempt at dream-nightmare time Aboriginal sequence before everything burnt
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Katlin
This was worth a large percentage of my marks in my VCE for Literature and i worked so hard analysing, studying and re-reading this novel that it earned me a 50/50 A+ (yes that's a brag but i deserved it). Aside from that, i was surprised that it actually had me interested while i was reading it (for the first time), very rare for a school assignment.
Calzean
It took a while for the story to get moving but it was worth wading through the first third of this book. Great imagery of the Darling Downs, heat, bushfires and drought.

The centre of the story is the Native Title Law and what this means to the farmers. As the book is based in Queensland, there are rednecks who see the end of the world coming.

Young William comes to live with his uncle in a ramshackle old mansion from a once grand farming family. The uncle has secrets. The land has secrets. Ther
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Kangarucci
The son of a farm hand on a grand Darling Downs estate, is given unrealistic expectations about his future role there. He is disabused of his fantasy by the daughter-of-the-house and spends the rest of his life manoeuvring to get his way. This is achieved at great cost, not least to his relationships with everyone who should be close to him. When his son-in-law dies in a farming accident he begins to groom his grandson as his heir. The boy’s mother, emotionally crippled by her sense of dependenc ...more
Susan
Mar 15, 2011 Susan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Susan by: Raewyn Anderson
Shelves: fiction
I found this book after the prologue took a long time to get started. It also jumps from generation to generation and can get a bit confusing so keep up. The story itself is interesting basically it's a history repeating itself, history catching up with you sort of story.

Some of the issue in this book were interesting and the feelings of revenge were also interesting and seemingly quite human even though they were extreme.

One thing I did find myself thinking with this book is about Parents and
...more
Louise
Reminds me in some parts of my own childhood exploring the old homesteads of the western districts in Victoria. I liked the familiarity of this but was soooooo bored by the end.

This was an easy (too easy?) read and an ok story although not wholly original - it is often reminiscent of Wuthering Heights or Great Expectations. As a work of literature, this book falls far short of the poetry, originality and grandeur of those works, and instead comes off feeling rather try-hard, self-indulgent, For
...more
Lauren Murphy
The White Earth is a very well written piece of Australian literature which highlights our short yet complex history, the invasion of the land by the white people and the disruptions it caused for many, many generations and how it still impacts society today. Young William is the POV, his father dies in a farm fire leaving his already mentally unstable mother a widow and penniless. They move in with his great uncle John McIvor, into a dilapidated homestead on Kuran Station in the Darling Downs. ...more
Janetta
I found this a compelling read. I was captivated by the story of the young boy William and how the life of his great uncle John (past and present) wraps around him in a sinister way. William is surrounded by adults too selfish and obsessed by their own vision of the future to see his very real needs, even his mother. At the heart of the story is the issue of landrights, the passing of Mabo legislation, the grim history that marks Australia's early colonial days. A supernatural element imbues a s ...more
Niamh
A lot of research and time went into the writing of this book. In some ways I liked it and in others I didn't. I liked the telling from the boy's viewpoint but really, is an 8yo really able to see everything as clear as William did? Mature beyond his years I thought.


I don't think that I would rush out and read another of his books but it was well thought out, well researched and, living in the Darling Downs region, it was great to read a book based in this area from a writer who grew up here.
Thoraiya
4.5 stars. If 'The Thorn Birds' was lacking in social commentary, 'The White Earth' certainly wasn't. Because of the title being a word away from 'The Good Earth', I expected the themes of the earth as life-giver and the rise of peasant to landowner, with the added dimension here of white ownership and black displacement. I was delivered all of those, in lavish, evocative prose. The story was layered and cleverly woven.

I see why it won the Miles Franklin. I didn't realise that McGahan had ascen
...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Critics describe The White Earth as a neo-Dickensian novel, replete with layered stories, flashbacks, crumbling mansions, family secrets, strange deaths, ghosts, deception, and even a suspicious old housekeeper. Yet they agree that the Australia Will inhabits is far darker than any world Dickens ever depicted. The heart of the novel is a tragic chapter in Australian history: the relocation and genocide of the Aborigines. Though the characters serve as mouthpieces for differing views on the quest

...more
Derren Foster
You can sense Andrew McGahan's connection to this area from the very start of this book and his descriptions of it remain the highlight for me. The pace of the story is spot on in most areas of the book but an exception was the storyline through the 50's and 60's that seemed to gloss over major events in double quick time. Another distraction was Will's uncanny ability to understand the adult world and his mother's negligence of his wellbeing, both I found difficult to comprehend. My initial rea ...more
Stephanie Kratzmann
This book rocked! I loved every page. It is set in a mythical part of Australia that bear a striking resemblence to the area where my parent's farm is located - the Darling Downs and Bunya Mountains.

This book follows the life of a boy growing up in a large historically significant homestead with his extended - and somewhat unloving - family. He grows, becomes a timber getter and learns a lot about the histroy of the region.

Having lived in a community very similar I found myself constantly readi
...more
Penny
I have really liked all of Andrew McGahan's books,but despite that this one sat on my shelves for over a year (maybe more) before I finally picked it up. I think I thought the subject matter wouldn't interest me as much as his more 'grungey' books have, but I thoroughly enjoyed this gothic mystery. Part Great Expectations, Andrew McGahan is an expert at creating engaging characters and then placing them in thoroughly believable situations. A bit of mystery, a crumbling, decrepit grand mansion re ...more
B
McGahan is grabbing for my heart strings, I can tell. But man, is he way off.

I do not care about William or his nasty ear, I do not care about John, the weird gothic house, or the ghosts that haunt Australia. In fact, I may like Australia less having completed this book.

McGahan does well to incorporate reality; the social issues of the time (1992 aka a super pivotal moment in Aussie history), and I appreciate allegory having a BA and pending MA in literature but this was just too much, guys. Sav
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Jenni
Couldn't put it down. The relationship between Will and his uncle kept us in sway as the story of power, culture , Native title, human desperation unfolded.
Melinda
I pulled this book from our library's staff picks table because it both looked intriguing and was an award winner. This book definitely fits the bill for intrigue, delving into downright eerie at parts, as the melange of secrets from the past and haunting treatment of aboriginal residents eek their way into the plot. It made me aware of prejudices that I had not before considered.
William's constant maladies made me feel ill at ease as the descriptions of his throbbing ear pain and headaches incr
...more
Leah Cripps
Another Australian classic by my now favourite Australian author Andrew McGahan. What a bleak ending to the book though.
Terra
This book really grabbed me and I could not put it down, especially during the last 100 pages. The setting is in the Australian Outback in the 19th and 20th centuries. A young boy may inherit a dilapidated mansion along with a massive amount of land from his eccentric great uncle, but there are strings attached. The development of the characters, their underlying motives and the blend of historical fiction and gothic thriller make this a great read. Winner of several Book-of-the-Year awards as w ...more
Eileen Mack
McGahan writes really well but the symbolism in this one is just way over the top heavy-handed. Heavy enough to win some Australian literary prize even. It's the story of a wealthy family (the Whites, get it?) who lost everything (and may lose more, because, Mabo), and the one son (of their racist and violent overseer) who had no choice but to keep their rotting estate and its deep dark secrets all together. (view spoiler) ...more
Greg Savage
The White Earth which I listened to was very engaging. The story of a Darling Downs dynasty felt close to home for me. It was set in a piece of historical history which I have been a part of in a small way (just by living at the right time and a small meeting with Benny Mabo before he died and receiving the judgment of the High Court). As a result the issues and emotions felt real to me. I don't wish to give anything away but those with an interest in Australian lit, mysticism, aborigines, bush/ ...more
Mandy
Perhaps this somewhat appealed to me in time because it is the 20 year anniversary of the Mabo legislation, and in place because the Darling Downs are my back yard. I can't say that there was much appealing about the subject matter. Awful family sagas of greed and nasty deeds, neglected and abused children and colonial crimes. McGahan gets away with playing with Indigenous spirituality by telling the story through a small boy who also happens to be sick and febrile and hungry and dehydrated - a ...more
Tiffany
I thought this book fit the definition of an "Oprah" book - engaging plot, good storytelling, and a brief glance at IDEAS OF GREATER IMPORTANCE. It's a good solid book, I think, with a few literary pretensions. "White," for example, is the name of the previous dynasty, but of course there's a struggle against the Aborigines' claim to land ... you get the idea. I was in it more for the plot than the thematic callings, though - and I imagine the visual language will resonate more after I've seen a ...more
Heather Browning
This book felt very different from what I usually read. There was an overall lack of action, a slow-moving story, but despite that I found it compelling. I liked the double-narrative covering the past and present and the overall story of the land. The Native Title story felt overly political in places, but certainly relevant. Overall I found it to be a story of desolation, the emotional emptiness in most of the characters reflected by the landscape in a very Australian style.
Louise Gray
This book won the Miles Franklin Literary Award as well as a number of local awards for writing. Therefore I thought it might be an interesting read, and I wasn't wrong. I enjoyed the back story and history of the indigenous people of the area. There is also a bit of a supernatural twist in the plot which adds to the story greatly. The only disappointment for me was the ending, in that it leaves the reader wondering what happens to the house and station.
Cathy Smith


I really liked the parallel story lines and the intrigue of how they would come together. It seemed to lose pace after that. The chapters lost in the bush seemed too drawn out. Loved the book's themes of place and home and connectedness. It all seemed so unnecessarily sad at the end. A glimmer of hope or enlightenment would have worked I think.
I agree with many others that the boy did not seem like a 9 year old.
Jacinta Fintan
fucking fantastic book from one of my favourite top 5 Australian writers. McGahan rolls out the magic of the outback from a young boy Williams point of view. The bush sky, drought and dust and rolling plains, hidden water springs and a whole bunch of twisted family tales. A stone house that is falling down. And of course, dysfunctional people. The White Earth left me edgy, in awe and stingin to get out of the city.
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Born in Dalby, Queensland, McGahan was the ninth of ten children and grew up on a wheat farm. His schooling was at St Columba’s and St Mary’s colleges in Dalby, and then Marist College Ashgrove in Brisbane. He commenced an Arts degree at the University of Queensland, but dropped out halfway through, in 1985, to return to the family farm, and to commence his first novel – which was never published. ...more
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