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3.64  ·  Rating Details ·  381 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
This novel, winner of the Sesquicentennial Literary Prize, offers an insight into Aboriginal issues and race relations.
530 pages
Published December 31st 1990 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published 1937)
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Community Reviews

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Sep 05, 2014 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first read Capricornia by Xavier Herbert (1901-1984) more than 30 years ago when I was majoring in English and was astonished at the scope and daring of the story. It’s a powerful exposé of race relations in Australia, delivered palatably in the form of a most engaging story. When I saw it in Dymocks as an audio book and had a book voucher to spend, I didn’t hesitate, and I’ve been listening to it in the car on the way to work for weeks now, because it’s a long book, 23 hours listening time on ...more
Jun 07, 2012 Matt rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
Capricornia offers an excellent view of Australia at its founding and in the early years, especially in the way it treated its aboriginal population. Herbert weaves an excellent tale over a 30-40 year span and presents not only the story of a family's growth (as well as some other characters who rise and fall around the same time), but also the appaling treatment of the 'first inhabitants'. A telling tale that has the guts to put on paper the truly pathetic way the government and citizens of ...more
Dillwynia Peter
Sep 21, 2013 Dillwynia Peter rated it it was amazing
A sweeping drama about the early days of the Northern Territory (Capricornia).

Herbert was a obviously a great lover of Dickens and copied much of his style in this drama. The towns, based on actual places have been changed, but if you know the Top End, you can locate them easily. Most importantly, are the character's names - they are pure Dickensian. The State Prosecutor is called Mr Thumbscough (Thumbs-screw) and so on. Even the narrative follows a Dickensian format - except for the very beginn
Feb 26, 2011 Amanda rated it liked it
An unpleasant book, but I think important to read, for the way that people thought then. Few white writers now could be that honest about prejudice. They can condemn it with sickeningly violent examples, but seem to miss their own complicity, or avoid the hypocrisy that nurtured its existence in the first place. Herbert the author faces it head on, as an unapologetic white man of those times, and his appropriation of the voices of others is racist in itself. But he has laid it out for all to see ...more
Brit McCarthy
Capricornia is the lengthy, epic tale spanning over generations in what we call 'the top end' (the Northern Territory) of Australia. I'm not even sure where to start. So many characters, so many intertwining storylines but all flowed well and made sense. It is the story of the trials and tribulations people who lived there, the white Australians, the Aboriginals, the half caste, the Chinese and all the rest. It is a very real look at the history of Australia, and how the North was very different ...more
This is one of those books which have languished on my shelf for years! An Australian classic that took on a challenging view on the treatment Aborigines received by the invading whites. The first third of the book was a bit slow as author sets up the world of Capricornia; beginning with the first exploration until our main protagonist, Norman Shillingsworth, was born. Despite its slow beginning, author shows his passion for the Aborigine people and was very clear in his comments how unjust the ...more
Chris Walker
Sep 07, 2012 Chris Walker rated it it was amazing
An uncomfortable read which must have been shocking in its day for its honesty about race relations and the abuse of Aboriginals and immigrant labour by white Australians in the deep north. The story is engaging and humorous at times (particularly its treatment of the police and legal system) but ultimately ends tragically.
Claire Melanie
Mar 16, 2016 Claire Melanie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Awful book. I was forced to read this for class and suffered through its racist and sexist violence. This was written by an evil white supremacist and misogynist. Of course then it's an Australian classic and never been out of print. A truly disgusting book with no redeeming features
Rodney Hatch
Jan 02, 2014 Rodney Hatch rated it it was amazing
Unwieldly and rough as guts and a punch in the guts to knock the wind out of the sails of the whitewashed version of Australian history. Kick 'em in the ribs too, Xavier. Couldn'ta said it better.
Todd Stockslager
Jun 03, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Review title: Herbert writes like Australia's Dickens, reads like its Dos Passos
I bought this book cold while I was working in Melbourne, Australia, and found I had picked up a classic. The introduction references Herbert as Australia's Charles Dickens, and the comparison is apt. While more physical and rugged than Dickens because of his setting in the mythical Capricornia, which corresponds to northern Australia, the analogy is particularly fitting in two key areas:

1. Names drive character. Di
Dec 03, 2014 Roger rated it really liked it
This novel is an Australian classic, and deservedly so - epic in outlook, Dickensian in the best senses of that word, and forward looking for its time, Capricornia is not only a moral tale for the citizens of Australia, it is one of the great books about the "Deep North" of this continent.

Capricornia is the inter-generational tale of the extended Shillingsworth family, and their life in Capricornia, a fictional area of what is recognisably the Northern Territory of Australia (Herbert also fictio
Oct 14, 2015 Vanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: austrálie
Capricornia je termín, který se někdy používá pro označení severní Austrálie (nad obratníkem Raka), a právě ten si autor zvolil jako název svého románu. A není divu, v příběhu se objevuje široká paleta postav, některé jen na okamžik, jiné vydrží déle, ale v konečném důsledku příběh nemá jednoho hlavního protagonistu, ale zachycuje spíš odraz stavu země a jejích obyvatel té doby. Do Capricornie, dlouho bělochy neosídlené oblasti, nehostinné, tropické, zákeřné, přijíždí roku 1904 dva bratři, Oscar ...more
Aug 08, 2011 Amanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Amanda by: My brother in law
I really enjoyed this book and read it just after visiting Darwin, a city I have visited several times. On the one hand the novel is a rattling good tale of life on the frontier of the Top End of Australia, and on the other, it is an expose of the treatment of the indigenous people and those of mixed race by the whites, who saw themselves as their superiors in every way.

Although the place names are disguised, the localities are clear to anyone who has travelled in that part of the country. Xavie
Feb 16, 2011 Kel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Australian literature or Australian history
This was an interesting book to read. It was tough going in places, but then all of a sudden the action would start again and it would be hard to put down for a while.

Taking into account the era in which the book was written, I was extremely surprised by the positive light in which indigenous Australians were portrayed. The author appears to have been an advocate of indigenous rights and this goes against everything we have learnt in our history lessons of the time. It is easy to imagine the con
Donald Schopflocher
Jan 02, 2015 Donald Schopflocher rated it really liked it
Read while I was visiting northern Queensland, this book provided a shocking picture of the early years of settlement, and particularly the brutal treatment of aboriginals, and the rough tough life on the frontier. The book was slow to warm up, often rambling, had many side narratives, peopled by stereotyped characters that never evolved (even down to Dickenesque character names), and told by a detached narrator. Nevertheless. I became entirely absorbed by the narrative arc in the second half of ...more
Mar 26, 2016 Allison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, australia
A long, funny, sad, fascinating yarn. It's hard not to compare it to The Thornbirds for sheer length and scope and belovedness, and I have to give credit to Herbert - his treatment of race, while not entirely unproblematic, is surprisingly progressive and generous for the time when this was written. Unlike the beautiful and somewhat silly (let's be honest) Thornbirds, in this story the complicated mix of Aborigines, immigrants, and white Australians is not only not ignored but is actually the ...more
Tanja Berg
This is an important and influential book which starts off with a clear, piercing voice. The plight of the aboriginies of Australia and their human worth was not high on any agenda when this book was written. As the story progresses it disintegrates. There is no clear direction and there seems to be no point. It's a book everyone should read, it's ashame the storyline isn't more tightly and interestingly woven.
Sarah Garner
I don't know what to say about this book, other than it was hard work to get through, so much so that I couldn't finish it. On the hole I found it a very interesting story as Australian history is something I don't know a lot about. The relationship between white people and the Aborigines was also interesting. But it was just to much of a heavy read for me.
I would recommend for any one who is interested in Australia and it's history.
Jul 05, 2012 Ahf rated it did not like it
Unbelievably unappealing portrate of the settlement of australia. But I got into it and finished despite the almost complete lack of appealing charcters even 10 hours into the book. Racism, eletism and entitlement are diseases. Gave up on it after 18 hours of listening. I thought that the two central characters might begin to build a more apealing world, but when he hit her I just threw in the towel
Oct 08, 2011 Nick rated it it was amazing
I've read this twice and still can't believe it's not rated as one of the best books ever. Guess that's what personal taste is all about. For me every paragraph is gripping, entertaining, informative, genius... etc. Australian true history is a romp. Who needs fantasy when you such a colourful history. Australia has yet to come to terms with its indigenous people and culture. This should be on every Aussie's read list.
Nathan Hobby
This novel seems influenced by The Grapes of Wrath; its comparable to Catch 22 with its huge cast and removed, bemused narrator while it seems to have influenced Tim Winton’s colloquial humour and affection for the bush rascal. Long patches of crude sermonising in the middle. It seems as if he ran out of puff. But he comes back compellingly. The other writer he reminds me of is Cormac McCarthy, because of the passion for the landscape that they share and the harshness.
Monica Wanjiru
Feb 16, 2013 Monica Wanjiru rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Awesome tale for anyone not familiar with Australia, great insights into the history of this great nation. Fascinating read for me. Perhaps the story could have been more tightly told; it does become tedious a bit somewhere in the middle, but still a great read! Highly recommend it for anyone interested in people and culture.
Apr 30, 2009 juli rated it it was ok
A very long, very depressing look at the Aussie Frontier as told through the eyes of several characters. The characters' stories are interwoven throughout the novel which spans several generations. I liked that it was a look at the early conditions of Australia and didn't hide the treatment of the poor Whites nor of the Aboriginals by the settlers.
Apr 02, 2013 Jane rated it liked it
Shelves: australian
Dickensian! A most enjoyable read, and probably should be read by pretty much anyone Australian or living in Australia. Heaps of characters, most of them just there to get the author's ideas out, which is fine: he has some ideas worth considering.
Mar 28, 2010 Nocheevo rated it liked it
Shelves: classics, australia
A slightly forgotten Australian classic. One of those sweeping historical epics, this time covering the development (in the white blokes' way) of Australia's north. Some may have a problem with the now considered racist terms used but over all it seems to capture the times well.
Jan 05, 2014 Connie rated it really liked it
Having been to the Northern territories of Australia, this book was especially interesting. It's the 'Uncle Tom's Cabin" of Australian literature. The story is engaging and the social commentary on the way people treated the aborigines is both fascinating and depressing.
Jan 07, 2013 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An intriguing tale set in The Northern Territories years ago. At times a little difficult to read due to the language, but this makes it all the more authentic, I feel. It takes a while to get through, so set aside at least a couple of days during a holiday spell.
Jun 05, 2012 Wendy rated it did not like it
I don't think I could even finish the first chapter. I was really disappointed as I thought I'd love a book about Australia's history. I hate to put a book down; maybe I'll try again but it will be much, much later...
Gerard Newham
Feb 21, 2014 Gerard Newham rated it really liked it
One of the great Australian novels. Some of the character names are glaringly rather silly, but the story of race and race relations in northern Australia from the late 19th century through to the early 20th is epic in its breadth.
Aug 12, 2014 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: worth-a-look
It is a book with unpleasant depictions of the indigenous population. Nevertheless it is an interesting saga which beautifully captures the landscape and the characters who live in it.
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