'In 1806 William Thornhill, a man of quick temper and deep feelings, is transported from the slums of London to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. With his wife Sal and their children he arrives in a harsh land he cannot understand.
'But the colony can turn a convict into a free man. Eight years later Thornhill sails up the Hawkesbury to claim a hundred acres for himself.
'Aboriginal people already live on that river. And other recent arrivals - Thomas Blackwood, Smasher Sullivan and Mrs Herring - are finding their own ways to respond to them.
'Thornhill, a man neither better nor worse than most, soon has to make the most difficult choice of his life.
'Inspired by research into her own family history, Kate Grenville vividly creates the reality of settler life, its longings, dangers and dilemmas. The Secret River is a brilliantly written book, a groundbreaking story about identity, belonging and ownership.' (From the publisher's website.)
'Convict William Thornhill, exiled from the stinking slums of early 19th century London, discovers that the penal colony offers something that he never dared to hope for before: a place of his own. A stretch of land on the Hawkesbury River is Thornhill’s for the taking.
'As he and his family seek to establish themselves in this unfamiliar territory, they find that they are not the only ones to lay a claim to the land. The Hawkesbury is already home to a family of Dharug people, who are reluctant to leave on account of these intruders.
'As Thornhill’s attachment to the place and the dream deepens, he is driven to make a terrible decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life.' (Source: Currency Press website)
'In 1810, emancipated English convict William Thornhill stakes a claim on 100 acres of land on the remote Hawkesbury River in New South Wales, only to find that a clan of Aboriginal people also lay claim to the land, as they have done since time immemorial.' (Production summary)
'Many people’s knowledge of history is gleaned through popular culture. As a result there is likely a blurring of history with myth. This is one of the criticisms of historical romance novels, which blur historical details with fictional representations. As a result of this the genre is often dismissed from serious academic scholarship. The other reason for its disregard may be that it is largely seen as women’s fiction. As ‘women’s fiction’ it is largely relegated to that of ‘low culture’ and considered to have little literary value. Yet the romance genre remains popular and lucrative. Research by the Romance Writers of America in 2016 found that the genre represents 23% of the US fiction market and generates in excess of US$1 billion per year (Romance Writers of America). Since the onset of COVID-19, sales of romance novels in the US have soared, increasing by 17% between January and May 2020. The most popular genre was the historical romance genre. In total during that period, 16.2 million romance e-books were purchased by consumers (NPD). Yet despite its popularity, romance fiction remains stuck in the pulp fiction bubble. This article draws upon an international survey conducted in June 2020 by the authors. The study aimed to understand how readers of historical romance novels (n=813) engage with historical representations in popular culture, and how they navigate issues of authenticity.' (Introduction)
'Throughout her stage and screen career, the actor Ningali Lawford-Wolf used the English she only began learning in earnest at about age 11 for diplomatic reasoning. She spoke three Indigenous languages too. Born circa 1967 in the large remote Aboriginal community of Wangkatjungka, 100 kilometres south-east of Fitzroy Crossing in the Western Australian Kimberley region, Lawford-Wolf would go on to appear in films such as Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit-Proof Fence, released in 2002, playing Maude, the mother of two of three little girls stolen from their families, based on a true story that chimed with her own: her father, who worked on a cattle farm, had forcibly been removed from his parents too.' (Introduction)
'We hold our breath as we read Grenville’s account of her convict ancestor, hoping for the harmonious ending we know cannot come.'
'From at least the early 1990s, when the Hawke Labor Government introduced reconciliation legislation into the Australian parliament, the concept of reconciliation has attracted criticism from both the political left and right. While some have complained of it as a predominantly white undertaking, others have seen it as a threat to the unity of the Australian nation-state. Following the election of John Howard in 1996, reconciliation met fierce resistance from the Federal Government itself, with Howard rejecting the recommendations of the 1997 Bringing Them Home report and refusing to apologise to Indigenous Australians for their ongoing sufferings at the hands of British colonialism. This is the political climate that provides the backdrop for the five novels, all written between 2002 and 2007, which Liliana Zavaglia examines in White Apology and Apologia: Australian Novels of Reconciliation (2016). In her book, Zavaglia deliberately chooses to focus exclusively on works by Anglo-Australian writers to examine how whiteness operates in contemporary Australia. Though she conceives of her primary texts as characteristic of a liberal whiteness that ‘worked to counter [the] political attempts [by the Liberal government] to silence the Indigenous rights and reconciliation movements’ (1), she argues that they, at the same time, articulate the ‘double movement of apology and apologia’ (3) typical of whiteness in Australia. Etymologically, ‘apology’ and ‘apologia’ are cognates of the Greek and Latin apologia, respectively. Despite their common roots, however, they differ significantly in terms of meaning, for while the first implies remorse, the latter, a later borrowing of the Latin form, indicates defence and justification. By identifying moments of both apology and apologia, Zavaglia suggests, the novels she discusses reveal the ‘discourse of liberal postcolonial whiteness [to be] a riven and conflicted site, driven in a hopeful quest to heal its relations with the other, even as its normative traces continue in the legacy bequeathed to it by its colonial foundations’ (21). What then follows is an elaborate investigation of this divided and disrupted nature of Australian whiteness, as it manifests itself in contemporary Anglo-Australian fiction.' (Publication abstract)