is a beautiful book, intelligently written. Grenville’s wonderful
attention to detail results in a myriad of small word paintings, each
of which add yet another layer to our understanding of both early
nineteenth-century London and Sydney. Not only can we see the sights,
we can also smell the smells and feel the textures. We become
immersed in the places; we become part of Grenville’s narrative.
book centres around William Thornhill, who, after winning a reprieve
from hanging for a minor thieving offence, is sent to Sydney town
with his wife, Sal, and their small child. It is obvious that the
family feels that it has landed at the end of the earth, but William,
relieved that he is still alive, sets about to turn the situation to
his own advantage. For William, his entire focus is set on owning a
place of his own. For Sal, her focus is set on returning Home.
Photo of Kate Grenville from The
Thornhill lays claim to one hundred acres on the shores of the
Hawkesbury River north of Sydney, he can see his dream taking shape.
But there are others who were obviously there before him - people who
do not worry about farming the soil but who seem to manage anyway.
Thornhill and the other settlers along the banks of the Hawkesbury
want the others gone.
it is obvious that Grenville’s sympathy is with the indigenous
people, she is simply the fact presenter, and the reader is left to
make up his/her mind. It is somewhat thought-provoking that while
Thornhill and the others suffered inhumane treatment when living in
England, once emancipated they gradually assume similar
characteristics to their earlier tormentors. Their eagerness to
finally be able to own something and, thereby, to achieve some degree
of social status, put them in direct conflict with a people where the
idea of personally owning anything, especially land, is completely
incomprehensible. With hindsight we can wonder if things might have
worked out differently had there had been less painful baggage on the
part of the ex-convicts and a more understanding, less ignorant,
attitude on the part of the people in charge. Unfortunately, we will