Emma's Reviews > The Secret River

The Secret River by Kate Grenville
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Brutal, and damning. (some spoilers ahead - but not if you know anything about Australian history).

I have been meaning to read this for a while, but after a slow drive down from Singleton and the Hunter via the old convict-built Great Northern Road and Wiseman's Ferry filed my interest to a finer point, I decided to go and get it.

The first part sucked me into its historical vividness, I enjoyed reading about William Thornhill and thinking of his as a kind of cipher for the social and political conditions at the time of early colonial convict transportation. The thrill of bare-bones old Sydney town being described virtually at its inception, and all that. But as soon as they get into the heart of darknessy decision to settle up-river, I remembered that this is based on Solomon Wiseman and massacres of Aboriginal people around the Hawkesbury and my heart dropped. You know it's only going to take you somewhere unbearable; and it does. That's why it's an important book and should be read by all Australians, and maybe English, and what the hell, Americans and everyone. Grenville is such a good writer; she manages to balance the awfulness of the life, and the acts committed, with the humanity of the completely out-of-their-depth settlers (there are some 'good' and 'bad' extremes that in a sense I guess stand for the range of attitudes held by the colonisers as to their place in the landscape and how the local people fitted into that). This is a really complex book in historical fiction's clothing, and I will need some time to absorb it. Recommended.

Also, anyone interested in getting a broader view of Aboriginal history since Europeans arrived in Aust should check out the amazing, amazing 2008 documentary series by Rachel Perkins called First Australians (on DVD from the ABC or SBS : http://shop.abc.net.au/browse/product... ).
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