Chris's Reviews > Whistler's Bones: A Novel of the Australian Frontier

Whistler's Bones by Greg Barron
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it was amazing
bookshelves: challenge2018, challenge, historical-fiction

Whistler's Bones is a sprawling frontier adventure that tells the story of an absolute nugget of Australian history, Charlie Gaunt. Gaunt's adventures take him through a number of significant events in Australian and world history - a veritable Forrest Gump of his times. The book is a great read, and I think one of the author's finest.

The story of Gaunt, a real-life historical figure, represents a largely untapped vein although many of the people wrapped around that vein, including the Duracks and Nat Buchanan, are better known. As a young teen, Charlie Gaunt leaves his family and life in 1880s Bendigo to find what sort of life he can make for himself armed with little more than some potential as a horseman. Thus begins the story that takes him across Australia, and across the world.

The strength of this novel for me, aside from the enthralling story telling, lay with the unfiltered retelling of Gaunt's story. Although an interesting and intriguing character, he is abundantly flawed. Some of his actions are indefensible and deplorable. In Gaunt, Whistler's Bones delivers a boy-to-man character we can at times admire, at times sympathise with and at times despise.

The author's decision to focus primarily on Gaunt's early manhood, and retell the rest of his story in brief, underpins the fondest memories and greatest regrets that would stay with Gaunt for life. In resisting the temptation to lionise Gaunt and turn him into a champion of causes and rights that exist now but didn't then, Barron provides a near-as-possible to accurate rendering of the man and his times. And while I'm sure the author is uncomfortable with the terms used and attitudes towards aboriginal Australians at the time, they are present in the book in unvarnished detail because to modify them would be revisionism.

Having grown up in Goulburn and being educated at St Pat's, the story of the Durack family and their epic cattle drive across to the Kimberleys was known to me, but I have to admit not in such detail or breadth. Whistler's Bones is a worthy addition to Australian literature and is deserving of being included in Australian school curricula where Gaunt's choices, the treatment of indigenous Australians and frontier life in Australian would provoke informative discussions and perhaps a desire to read more of this era and better understand it. This painstakingly researched book has certainly sent me in that direction.

I've read a number of Greg's books, but enjoyed this the most. Barron is a fine author at the peak of his powers telling stories he is passionate about. Five stars.
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Reading Progress

November 15, 2017 – Started Reading
November 15, 2017 – Shelved
March 12, 2018 – Shelved as: challenge2018
March 12, 2018 – Shelved as: challenge
March 12, 2018 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
March 12, 2018 – Finished Reading

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