The White Earth – Best Read For the Year

This blog is becoming my dumping ground for cut and paste book reviews, but – whatever!

The White Earth by Andrew McGahan has been one of the best reads for the year. I am not sure who recommended it to me, but I picked it up in a new little bookshop in William St Northbridge – SECONDHAND! Yes I love a bargain and this I found for $4. I carry a list of books I wantto read and if I find a shop that stocks second hand books I pull out the iPhone and search my list until I find one on the shelf, and this was found! I seem to be reading into a bit of a rut in the past year. An enjoyable one though. The theme seems to be around either early Australian white settlement/invasion and the interaction with indigenous Aussies or more recent history (still Australian) and (again) white fella interaction with black fellas, like this one around the Mabo issue and land rights in the early ’90’s. Some ugly history we have, obvioulsy good fodder for the stuff novels are made of, but what I like is that the books I have been reading reveal something of the truth behind the ugliness and bloody mindedness of white settlers, pioneers and explorers. I know that it can be passed off as ‘culture’, ‘the way things were’, ‘the times’ or whatever, and some say we would have done the same in the time…but I hope not! I love that many if not all the books I have read lately have shown the one or two stand out European characters that have stood their ground, stood for the Aboriginal, built relationship with one or many. Usually what follows for the white is rejection, isolation and sometimes even punishment and death for the stand taken for the plight of the Aboriginal. I plan to read an auto biography next…wait and see.


The White Earth

(Miles Franklin Award 2005)

William is only eight when he sees a huge smoke cloud erupt on the family farm. He is confused by the events that follow – the smell of smoke, the ringing of the telephone, the appearance of neighbour’s vehicles. But eventually he realises his father has been killed in a tractor fire. William and his mother are left destitute by his father’s passing, and with the unstable mother unable to either care properly for William or work for a living, they are forced to accept the charity of an uncle William didn’t know existed.

Moving into his uncle’s home, Kuran House, does not provide the stability William needs. His uncle has spent his life in an obsessed quest to own Kuran Station and now needs an heir to continue his life’s work. He is not, however, prepared to simply name William in his will. He wants the boy to prove himself. William’s mother, desperate for security and a better life, expects William to perform for his uncle. And, while William works to try to balance the competing needs of these two unbalanced adults, he is also battling a health problem which no one around seems at all concerned with.

Alongside the personal struggles of William and the unstable grown ups who seem to occupy his world is the story of the Mabo case and the land rights debates of the late 20th century. The novel is set in 1992, the year the Mabo case was playing out in the nation’s courtrooms and television sets. William’s uncle is involved in the White Australia movement, through the Australian Independence League and has William assist him in his work. William is a boy desperate for love, acceptance and order and he is drawn into what he sees the League offering him. It is much later in the novel that he is forced to question both the League and his uncle’s beliefs and action.

The White Earth is a complex story, with parallel plots involving William’s present and his Uncle John’s past. As William’s story unfolds we also learn what has brought his uncle to this place in his life – both physically and emotionally. It is a novel with many shocks, gripping the reader with its sheer awfulness. Those who have read Dickens will draw parallels between Uncle John and Miss Havisham and be aware of the Dickensian feel to both the progression of the tale and the overall tone.

That said, this is a very Australian novel, with a very Australian setting and cast.


The White Earth, by Andrew McGahan
Allen & Unwin, 2004

Review ref here


And now for something completely different…

I found an amazing little bookshop in Leura and spent too much money…I really need to get over my need to own books…what’s wrong with my awesome library? Anyway I had been chasing this book since I heard the ABC interview with Cannold. So I grabbed it and devoured it before the nice open fire in the Blue Mountains. Don’t read it if you are looking to appease your ‘biblically correct’ needs. It is not true to scripture, it is probably true to the culture of the time, in fact it gives a wonderful look into the way it may have been, looking into the circle of friends Jesus (Joshua) hung with, imaging life in his family, it was a penetrating look at the plight of women in that culture 2000 years ago.

Named one of Australia’s top 20 public intellectuals in 2005, Leslie Cannold is an author, commentator and ethicist.

With two non-fiction books to her name, The Abortion Myth and What, No Baby?, Leslie Cannold now adds a novel to her catalogue.

ABC bookshow interview here .

What if the man you loved betrayed your brother?

Two thousand years ago, while a young Jewish preacher from Nazareth was gathering followers among the people of Galilee, his sister swept floors and dreamed of learning to read.

In Leslie Cannold’s story, it is the women of Nazareth who take centre stage.

The rebellious, gifted Rachael, consigned by her sex to a life of drudgery.

Bindy, the crone who teaches her the skills of the healer.

Shona her sister, the victim of a harsh social code, and their mother Miriame, a woman seemingly unable to love.

When Rachael falls in love with her brother’s dearest friend, the rebel Judah of Iscariot, it seems that at least one of the women of Nazareth may find happiness. Then a message comes from her brother in Jerusalem. And the events begin to unfold that will change not just Rachael’s life, but the world forever.

That Deadman Dance

I have just read That Deadman Dance by WA author Kim Scott, judges have just awarded it this years Miles Franklin
prize. In their shortlist announcement, the judges of the prize said, “That Deadman’s Dance is alive in the spaces between these two worlds as they collide and collaborate. It tells the story of the rapid destruction of Noongar people and their traditions. At the same time, there is the enchanting possibility of the birth of a new world in the strange song, dance, ceremony and language that are produced by these encounters of very different peoples.”

That Deadman Dance has been critically praised since its release last year and has also been shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for fiction and the WA Premier’s Literary Award for fiction.

A great read for anyone but particularly West Aussies, Albany folks, Noongar’s and um…well anyone.

The Lieutenant – Recommended Reading

The Lieutenant is the second book in a trilogy of novels by Kate Grenville about early Australia (the others are The Secret River – see 2 posts below – and a third novel in progress).

Lieutenant Daniel Rooke sails into Sydney Cove with the First Fleet, hoping to advance his career.  Instead his life is unimaginably changed.

A young Aboriginal girl visits and begins to teach him her language. As they learn to speak together, they build a rapport that bridges the gap between their dangerously different worlds.  Then Rooke is given a command that forces him to choose between his duty as a soldier and the friendship that’s become so precious to him.

Inspired by the First Fleet notebooks of William Dawes, The Lieutenant is about a unique moment when one world engaged with another, and the two remarkable individuals who found ways to share understanding. I finished this book last night and yet again have been inspired and dismayed by the characters surrounding the invasion of the first fleet here in Australia. Dawes was an inspirational man, but just a man. He had his own issues and story. He finished this life amongst the poor and needy, people who were or had been enslaved and he spent his money in buying their freedom or so legend suggests! We do know that he spent much energy in the fight against slavery.

I look forward to the next book by Grenville!

Great Book to Read

The Secret River is part of a trilogy about early Australia (along with The Lieutenant, published in 2008, and a third novel in progress).

It’s set in the early nineteenth century, on what was then the frontier: the Hawkesbury River, fifty miles beyond  Sydney.

William Thornhill, an illiterate Thames bargeman and a man of quick temper but deep feelings, steals a load of timber and is transported to New South Wales in 1806. Like many of the convicts, he’s pardoned within a few years and settles on the banks of the Hawkesbury River. Perhaps the Governor grants him the land or perhaps he just takes it – the Hawkesbury is at the extreme edge of settlement at that time and normal rules don’t apply.

However he gets the land, it’s prime riverfront acreage. It looks certain to make him rich.

There’s just one problem with that land: it’s already owned. It’s been part of the territory of the Darug people for perhaps forty thousand years. They haven’t left fences or roads or houses, but they live on that land and use it, just as surely as Thornhill’s planning to do.

They aren’t going to hand over their land without a fight. Spears may be primitive weapons, but settlers know that they can kill a man as surely as a ball of lead from a musket.

As he realises all this, Thornhill faces an impossible choice.

Some of his neighbours – Smasher Sullivan, Sagitty Birtles – regard the Darug as hardly human, savages with as little right to land as a dog. When the Darug object to being driven off, those settlers have no compunction in shooting or poisoning them.

Other neighbours make a different choice, and find ways to co-exist with the Darug. Blackwood has made a family among them. Mrs Herring “gives them when they ask”.

Hostility between blacks and whites gradually escalates. Finally a group of settlers decides to go out and “settle” the Darug for once and for all. Will Thornhill join them?

The decision he makes is with him for the rest of his life.

The Secret River plunges the reader into the experience of frontier life. What was it like – moment to moment, day by day – to have been in that situation? It doesn’t judge any of the characters or their actions, only invites the reader to ask the question, “What might I have done in that situation?”

Last Child In The Woods

It not be significant to many, but I thought it worth a mention. I finished a book this morning by Richard Louv. The book was called Last Child in the Woods. The significant part is that Richard (a guy who lives in the USA) is in Perth just for this morning speaking at a conference! Anyway I did not get to hear him but I finished his book instead. It was a great read for all people interested in the benefits of growing up with the outdoors in your blood. Good for teachers and parents and lovers of wild things and spirituality! Here’s what Louv’s website says of the book ;

n this influential work about the staggering divide between children and the outdoors, child advocacy expert Richard Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation—he calls it nature-deficit—to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorders, and depression.

Last Child in the Woods is the first book to bring together a new and growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults. More than just raising an alarm, Louv offers practical solutions and simple ways to heal the broken bond—and many are right in our own backyard.

Batavia’s Graveyard – WA History

I picked up an Australian history book on The Book Depository – THE best place to buy cheap books the other week and it arrived a few days ago. The thing that has got me deeply hooked into this great read is that when I grew up I attended WembleyDowns Church of Christ. I grew up with a family that still attends that Church, a family in which the dad was always going off diving with the University and working with the WA Maritime museum. It was not until I was in high school doing history that my parents told me that the particular history I was studying (The Batavia) was what this guy John had been working on for some years. He was diving collecting and restoring the old ship, which can be seen with some of its treasure at the WA Maritime museum in Fremantle.

Here is the Amazon review –

In 1629, the Dutch merchantman Batavia grounded on a desolate atoll near Western Australia. Of the 200 survivors, 115 were subsequently murdered, in coldest blood, by a group of the ship’s sailors and their psychopathic leader, Jeronimus Corneliszoon. Batavia’s Graveyard is Mike Dash’s unnerving, measured account of the incident. The victims included children, babies, and pregnant women; the crimes took place over a period of several months. Though the killings make a substantial, chilling tale in themselves, Dash adroitly places the shocking spree in larger context with illuminating discussions of 17th century medical practices, religious heresy, global politics, and shipboard sociology and daily life. Additionally, he draws dozens of portraits of the participants in this ghastly drama, most fascinatingly that of Corneliszoon, who emerges as a grotesquely charismatic predecessor of the likes of Charles Manson and Ted Bundy. Batavia’s Graveyard, a skillful melding of accessible scholarship and evenhanded narrative and of overview and telling detail, is a welcome achievement.

Good Read on the Human Soul

Parker J. Palmer writes deep into the human soul. I read a book of his called hearing the voice of vocation that released me (almost!) from feeling I had a need to do a particular ‘job’ but rather look a bit wider and see the forest, not just a tree. By doing so one sees more about the various gifts and abilities one brings to a workplace etc. I still struggle about ‘what to do’ rather just being who I am with regards to my work, but I feel more relaxed on the whole.

The other week I finished “A Hidden Wholeness. The Journey Towards an Undivided Soul.” by Palmer.
Palmer gives us real advice for forming “circles of trust” where honest, open sharing allows each person’s “inner teacher” to do its work. (Ground rules: “no fixing, no saving, no advising, no setting each other straight.”) Palmer shows that too many people have “divided lives”. It’s a good read, even if, like me, you are not into poetry! He uses poems a bit to help people unfold in these circles of trust.

The Soul

I think Matty B emailed this to me once. I now must be reading a book he was reading then and so I too have come across this great quote, and I publish it for you (probably again, I am sure I put it in here once before!)

Parker J Palmer says;

…the soul is [ ] shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush, especially when other people are around. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently at the base of a tree, breathe with the earth, and fade into our surroundings, the wild creature we seek might put in an appearance. We may see it only briefly and only out of the corner of an eye – but the sight is a gift we will always treasure as an end in itself.

A Hidden Wholeness (58/9)

Rainbow Spirit Theology


Towards an Australian Aboriginal Theology by the Rainbow Spirit Elders. This book has been prepared by a group of Aboriginal Christian leaders with the aim of integrating the traditions of Aboriginal culture with the traditions of Christianity.

Rainbow Spirit Theology provides a source of genuine dialogue between Aboriginal and immigrant Christians who enjoy a rich life on what was once Aboriginal land.

I found it to be an easy read at some level and a great and rich thought provoker at another.