Thomas Keneally trained for several years for the Catholic priesthood and, although ordained deacon, was never made priest. He worked as a schoolteacher and clerk and taught drama at the University of New England. From the mid-1960s on, his novels began to appear and soon Keneally embarked on an extraordinary career as full-time and commercially prosperous writer, with remarkable success in Australia and overseas.
Interested not only in Australian history, but also in that of other parts of the world, Keneally has travelled widely and lived abroad, experiences reflected in the great variety of geographical and historical settings of his books. In 1987, for example, he travelled in Eritrea under the protection of the Eritrean Liberation Front, an event that formed the basis of his book on the Ethiopian-Eritrean war, Towards Asmara (1988).
Known for his humour as well as his moral stance and his commitment for the fate of ordinary people, Keneally has become a public figure in Australia and a sought-after speaker of distinction. He was made an AO in 1983, and, among many other honours, received a DLitt from the University of Queensland. A staunch supporter of Australian republicanism, he also wrote an account of his views on this controversial public issue, Our Republic (1993).
For more information see Thomas Keneally (1991) by Peter Quartermaine and Thomas Keneally : A Celebration (2006) by Peter Pierce.
'Whilst living in exile on St Helena, Napoleon exerted an extraordinary influence on young Betsy Balcombe. How did she get from Napoleon's side to the Australian bush?
'Betsy Balcombe as a young woman lived with her family on St Helena. They befriended, served and were ruined by their relationship with Napoleon. To redeem the family's fortunes William Balcombe, Betsy's father, betrays Napoleon and accepts a job as the colonial treasurer of NSW, bringing his family with him. William never recovers from the ups and downs of association with Napoleon. His family however flourish in Australia and remain renowned pastoralists in Victoria.
'Tom Keneally, with his gift for bringing historical stories to life, shares this remarkable friendship and the beginning of an Australian dynasty.' (Publication summary)
'In 1915 sisters Naomi and Sally Durance answer a call for nurses to join the war effort. They are escaping the family dairy farm in the Macleay Valley, and they carry a secret with them. Soon they are in Egypt, where they are put to work on the Red Cross hospital ship Archimedes as it patrols the Dardanelles. On Archimedes they witness Mars in all his ferocity, as he pummels soldiers in the massive, brutal metal brawl that is Gallipoli. Yet the sisters and their newfound nursing friends, with whom they will witness undreamt-of carnage and take care of unspeakably blighted men, find themselves courageous in the face of the horror.
'Naomi, Sally and their gang are then sent to northern Europe, where Naomi nurses in the visionary Australian Voluntary Hospital run by the committed and eccentric Lady Tarlton, and Sally in a casualty clearing station next to the Western Front. Here, again, they must face the inhumanity of war in its many terrible guises - where trench warfare and gas abound. But it is here, too, that the sisters meet the remarkable men with whom they wish to spend the rest of their lives.
'Inspired by journals of Australian nursing sisters who gave their all to the Great War effort and the men they nursed, The Daughters Of Mars is vast in scope yet extraordinarily intimate. This is Keneally at the height of his storytelling powers; a stunning tour de force to join the best of First World War literature, and one that casts a fresh light on the challenges faced by the Australian men and women who voluntarily risked their lives for peace.' (From the publisher's website.)
'Artem Samsurov, a charismatic protege of Lenin and an ardent socialist, reaches sanctuary in Australia after escaping his Siberian labour camp and making a long, perilous journey via Japan. But Brisbane in 1911 turns out not to be quite the workers' paradise he was expecting, or the bickering local Russian emigres a model of brotherhood.
'As Artem helps organise a strike and gets dangerously entangled in the death of another exile, he discovers that corruption, repression and injustice are almost as prevalent in Brisbane as at home. Yet he finds fellow spirits in a fiery old suffragette and a distractingly attractive married lawyer, who undermines his belief that a revolutionary cannot spare the time for relationships. When the revolution dawns and he returns to Russia, will his ideals hold true?
'Based on a true story, The People's Train brings the past alive and makes it resonate in the present. With all the empathy and storytelling skills that he brought to bear in Schindler's Ark, Tom Keneally takes us to the heart of the Russian Revolution through the dramatic life of an unknown, inspiring figure. Like Schindler, Samsurov was no saint, but he was an individual who played a vital role in world-changing events.' (From the publisher's website.)