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The White Earth

3.65  ·  Rating Details  ·  845 Ratings  ·  81 Reviews
An innocent boy is the focus of this novel, which highlights the tensions between the descendants of Australia's settlers and today's Aborigines as the sins of the past come back to haunt a new generation.

William was not yet nine when his ineffectual father was accidentally killed in a fire. His mother, fighting demons of her own, casts him upon the charity of an unknown g
Paperback, 376 pages
Published 2004 by Allen & Unwin
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Community Reviews

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4.5 s

The publicity blurb for this intriguing book touts it as Part family saga, part history and part gothic thriller. This is a pretty accurate description of a grim but compelling story.

The title does not reflect any reality, but rather is a reference to the White family who once owned a large pastoral station, Kuran, on the northern fringes of the Darling Downs, west of Brisbane. With that dynasty long gone, the property is now in the hands of John McIvor, son of the former station manager, D
Feb 01, 2009 Pauline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 07, 2011 Kiwiflora rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 29, 2011 Fiona rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 15, 2014 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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.
Feb 03, 2016 Louisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The White Earth is a true Australian story which stretches back into our early history from the point of the 1990s. The land is at the centre of the narrative and yet the idea of 'ownership' is dealt with in a fairly unusual way. Rather than focusing explicitly on the black and white conflict over land these issues tend to sit in the background of a different sort of story about the spiritual connection white men have with the land. This story takes readers into some fairly magical places in its ...more
Dec 17, 2011 Louise rated it it was ok
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
Lauren Murphy
Aug 30, 2011 Lauren Murphy rated it really liked it
Shelves: aussie-author
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
Sep 29, 2010 B rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Eileen Mack
Jun 22, 2013 Eileen Mack rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Francene Carroll
The White Earth has been described as an example of "Australian gothic" and it certainly makes use of gothic elements. The whole story is based around a decaying mansion where the main character William and his mother are forced to live when his father dies in a farming accident. This house is inhabited by William's bitter, angry uncle who is seeking an heir for Kuran station and who latches onto William as his last hope, and his sinister housekeeper who could have stepped straight out of the pa ...more
Nov 16, 2014 Gloria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
William and his widowed mother go to live with his Uncle John (at least I think he is his uncle) and before he knows it, he is pulled into John's nightmare of a life. John, brought up to believe he is the heir to a grand farm estate, has seen it all snatched from him. He worked his whole life to regain his treasured inheritance and now is dying. He sees William as the perfect chance to pass on the land he has gathered to himself and maintain the dynasty pictured in his brain. The whole tone of t ...more
May 25, 2011 Katlin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 21, 2014 Calzean rated it really liked it
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
Jan 04, 2014 Kangarucci rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 15, 2011 Susan rated it liked it
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
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
Mar 12, 2014 Niamh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclub, australian
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.
Sep 17, 2011 Thoraiya rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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

Derren Foster
Aug 01, 2014 Derren Foster rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 15, 2008 Stephanie Kratzmann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Jan 13, 2016 Stevie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The themes in this novel were fascinating, however I feel it could've been a little more realistic. This text is mostly narrated from the perspective of a nine year old, but his voice is that of an adult. I don't know... my partner loved it, but I wouldn't go that far.
Apr 09, 2011 Penny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 08, 2014 Jenni rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 13, 2015 Jared rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: australian
A great read.

The author is good at driving you to read the following chapter.

Whether intended or not, he shows how relationships and histories direct our words and actions, and how easily prejudice can be passed on if you only use the right words. It shows well how people create their own narratives of their lives, even if they are unable to see or understand the entire picture.
Robyn Gibson
A nine year old boy just wouldn't think the way this main character does. He'd be more realistic if he were 13 or so.
Kathryn Pokarier
a very good sense of place. the pace was uneven in parts. a modern gothic tale on the Darling Downs .
Dec 30, 2014 Sharon rated it really liked it
A great gothic portrayal of modern Australia, explores Attitudes to land and race, a great read, read some time ago.
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
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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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