Kevin Doyle Blog

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Press Release: “Rebellious Worms Aim To Reclaim The Old Head of Kinsale”

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A colourful new children’s book, entitled The Worms That Saved The World, is set to focus renewed attention on the controversy surrounding the Old Head of Kinsale in Co Cork. Written by Kevin Doyle and beautifully illustrated by artist, Spark Deeley, The Worms That Saved The World will be launched at Cork’s City Hall on May 5th by writer and dramatist Conal Creedon.

Access to the scenic Old Head of Kinsale – a landmark site on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way – has been restricted since 2003 when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Old Head Golf Links who had applied for exclusive rights to control who could walk on the headland. In The Worms That Saved The World a group of earthworms living on an imaginary headland begin to suffer when a golf course takes up residence around their home. The worms attempt to tell the new owners about their concerns but they are dismissed. In response they organise and join with the other birds and animals on the headland. Eventually they reclaim the headland for everyone.

“The book was inspired by the Free The Old Head campaign,’ said Kevin Doyle, ‘but it is about a lot more than just that. It is also about the environment and the need to stand up for your rights while celebrating community and solidarity in our lives. It’s a feel-good book that kids and parents together can enjoy and learn from.”

He continued,

‘The illustrations are works of art in their own right. Children will love these rebellious worms. Let’s face it, earthworms get a lot of bad press but these worms have something to tell us about the need to share the planet and respect the environment.”

The illustrations in the book have already garnered praise.

“There are thirty-five original illustrations,” said Spark Deeley. “First, I sketched the images onto watercolour paper. The drawings were then inked in using a fine liner drawing pen. Finally, I coloured the drawings by hand using watercolour paint. The larger images took between 4 – 5 days each from start to finish.”

Spark Deeley and Kevin Doyle (2)She added, “The expressions on the faces of the worms change throughout the book. Their faces convey the emotions that they experience as the story unfolds. We see concern, confusion, surprise, fear, outrage, concentration, questioning, determination, compassion and pure joy. That is what this story is all about.”

The Worms That Saved The World is published by Chispa Publishing, Cork and will retail at €10. Copies can be ordered online via Facebook or Twitter. The book will be available in Cork at Vibes and Scribes (Lavitt’s Quay) and Liam Ruiséal (Oliver Plunkett Street).

Further Information:

Kevin Doyle and Spark Deeley

For background history about the Old Head dispute see Free Old Head of Kinsale – A Brief History (includes more links.)

For more about the storybook and its development see About “The Worms That Saved The World”

 

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Q & A on the Worms That Saved The World…

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Mutual Aid

A: For as long as anyone can remember there’s been a walk out along the headland to the Old Head of Kinsale lighthouse in Cork.  It’s actually a very well known walk and remarked upon in many tourist guides to the area – there’s fantastic scenery right along the entire route.  But in the late 90s some developers purchased the headland itself and announced plans to put a luxury golf course on the area that they owned.   They blocked off access to the walk and declared that a walking path and their plans for a golf links were not compatible. To be blunt about it, they wanted it all for themselves and their clients.

A: A campaign got underway to defend the public’s right of way and the public’s right to access.  It was called the Free The Old Head Of Kinsale Campaign.  It organised some large public trespass demonstrations.  These were tremendous and inspiring and I was on a number of them.  But the developers had the Gardaí [G: Guards] on their side.  And, as it turned out, the courts too.  For a while it seemed like we might be able to regain access to the walk but in the end a High Court ruling broke the resolve of the campaign and access was lost. For the present, anyway.

A: While this was going on I had two young daughters to mind.  I was aware that there were few enough children’s picture books around that were any bit different.  There are lots of good books that look at the natural world in a respectful and sympathetic way, but there is lots of material around too about kings and queens, and princes and princesses and all that stuff.  The big problem is the imbalance in books available to a parent or a reader.  A lot of material out there simply reinforces quite traditional values – there is no question about that.

A: I am not sure how exactly the idea of the worms story came to me.  But it could’ve been the fact that one of my daughters had a real grá [G: love] for making these elaborate homes for worms out in the garden.  She would gather lots of worms and put them in lunch boxes with earth and leaves and all sorts of things.  Probably rough enough for the worms but I did noticed that they never really hung around for long!  When she returned to check on them, the worms were always long gone.  I also read at one stage about the problems on some golf course with the chemicals they use to keep weeds down.  And then I had this picture in my mind too of seeing a water feature on a golf course in the States once – the water was a strange ultra blue colour!   Looked bizarre, to me.  All these things set me thinking.  So I got a rough idea for a story.  But that was all it was for a long time: this community of worms having to suddenly contend with a golf course and all that involves.

A: Although I knew Spark Deeley, it wasn’t until I saw her book, Into the Serpent’s Jaw, on sale at Solidarity Books in Cork that I thought to approach her about working on the idea.  Into the Serpent’s Jaws is a beautiful book with really engaging illustrations in it.  So Spark agreed to take a look and went off with the bones of the story.  When we met up again, she had these wonderful illustrations done.  They were really brilliant and I knew from that point on that this was going in the right track.  We began working on more illustrations and then on finalising the story line.

Connie arrives at worm school

A: That’s where we are at now.  Spark has completed about eight or so illustrations for the book.  They have transformed how the story looks and feels.  In the meantime I have worked on finalising the story line.  There’s a good bit to do still, but we have started to approach publishers with samples.  Truthfully, we need a sympathetic publisher because the ideas at the centre of this story are different and, you know in their own way. they are subversive too.

A: Publishing is unbelievably conservative  – what I’ve seen of it anyway.   Whereas this story is outside the box.  Why, you ask?  Well the story really is about solidarity and community – that’s a big part of it.  It’s also about why sometimes we have to stand up for ourselves, and why sometimes when we do, it is best if we do it collectively.   I think  the ideas in Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid have also managed to get to the story, which is wonderful.  Oops, now I’ve really give the game away!

Before the struggle - rivals

[Note:the above are photos of illustrations by Spark Deeley.]

Written by Kevin Doyle

April 8, 2011 at 8:49 am

Don’t Mention The War at Frank O’Connor Short Story Festival

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2003 invasion of Iraq

Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes the best way to get your hands on the cream of short story writing for the year is to get along to the Frank O’Connor Short Story Festival, held in Cork.  This year the short list of six writer (see below) for what is regarded by many as the most prestigious prize for the short story in the world, included five writers from the United States.

There is no doubt that the short story is a valued form in the States.  Publications such as the New Yorker have in particular promoted the discipline and must be credited for their support for the short story over the years.  Frank O’Connor himself benefited enormously from US patronage when he struggled to make a living here in Ireland all those years ago.  Furthermore we cannot easily dismiss writers of the caliber of Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, Jane Anne Philips and Annie Proulx – to name just a few of the accomplished writers who have penned stories from over in the States.

But – and here’s the thing – it stuck me forcefully this year, with the US having such a strong presence in the final shortlist, that there is something wrong.  The United States after all is at war.  Actually it is fighting not just one war but two – in Iraq and Afghanistan.   These wars, it must be underlined, are major conflicts.

In 2003 the United States led coalition invaded Iraq. It deposed the regime there and installed another one.  Massive civilian casualties were suffered and many atrocities occurred.  It was discovered that torture and the ill-treatment of prisoner by US forces was rife – recall the Abu Ghraib revelations.  In sum Iraq has been bombed into a relic of what it was once by the US war machine for dubious and long discredited objectives.  Then there is the war in Afghanistan.  Attacked in 2001 it has been in a state of crisis for nearly 9 years.  Again the casualties have been massive.  Torture has been rife and there is the ongoing plague of drone bombings which have in fact escalated in intensity since the Barak Obama’s election.  Significant numbers of civilians have been massacred.  We are talking here of outrages as serious as what Guernica represents to modern warfare.  Now however it seems as if atrocities of the scale of Guernica have become so commonplace that they are hardly commented on any more.  But they are still outrages and they are still happening.

What has all this got to do with the short story?   Well, for me, it is this.  Here, on this occasion in Cork, we have five US short story writers shortlisted for a prestigious international award.  These are very good writers – some are new and have produced debut collections while others like TC Boyle and Ron Rash are established.   But is there one significant story about the above wars in the collective output from these writers?  Well, so far, if it is there, I haven’t been able to find it.  And by the way if someone does find such a story, then do let me know.

The pat explanation of course is that stories or literature (and art), if you want, are above these base matters.  Or another generous explanation might be that the material for stories about these wars has yet to filter down through the great sponge that is contemporary life and civilisation.  In other words, with regard to US output these stories will come in time – as indeed they did when we look back at the invasion of Vietnam by the US.

The above points are indeed reasonable.  Or are they?  Do they explain the avoidance of these US wars – that’s the question? Or maybe avoidance is too strong a word – is it?   ‘Omission’ perhaps?  Lack of interest perhaps?  Well what then?  Why silence about such important and vital events?

I accept that this blog observation of mine is not a scientifically valid study of contemporary US fiction and it’s engagement with war.  Fair enough. Nor is it intended to be of course!  And perhaps there is an explanation, or part of one, in the process of selection for the Prize – from long list to short list even.  There were, I think, over twenty US writers on the long list so, maybe, along the way the writers of war stories were weeded out.  I don’t know if that is so.  And so maybe I am getting the wrong end of the stick here?

But my main point has been taken up elsewhere too.  The dearth of novels about the current US wars has already been previously noted.  US writer and small press publisher, Tony Christini has pointed out in a number of articles that there is serious lack of material emerging in the States to do with the current wars.  Tony Christini’s points to a number of reasons for the paucity of fiction relating to these wars.  Publishers are business people (as we all know – don’t we?) and as such they are uncomfortable with any rocking of the boat.  And on the writer side, a focus on these wars  can lead to the stigmatization of the writer as ‘political’ or as ‘having an agenda’.  Apparently such qualities are good for your career.  So is the issue censorship or perhaps more worrying still: self censorship?

Returning to the collections at this years prize, something else struck me though.  And this in some ways is the most disturbing thing.  It is not just that the collections concerned here don’t touch on the various wars now being waged by the USA.  Rather there is also the inverse problem: this indeed is even more damning of the state of writing in the US to my mind.  What I mean is: the picture that emerges of the Untied States from the collective output of the shortlisted US writers for this years Prize is of a society NOT at war.   Indeed the concerns of many of the characters is rather of a world not unlike our own.  (Note that Ireland is not currently at war or in the process of invading any other countries – that I know of anyway.) What I mean is that the characters obsess about normal and everyday concerns (mean neighbours; bad parenting and so on and so forth).  And perhaps this is the double injustice of the literary output from the States as exemplified by this shortlist.  In these times the ugly truth of a nation at war and a society driven by a voracious military-industrial complex is not only not being examined, it could even be argued it is being airbrushed from the picture we are being offered to see of that same society.

As a short short writer myself and as someone who has always admired Frank O’Connor’s engagement with the political, I must say I am unsettled by what I’ve read, and by this short list.  But lastly let me say a few words about the worthy winner, Ron Rash.  His stories in this collection are a cut above the others IMHO – going by the US entries anyway.  While I couldn’t find any stories in his collection, Burning Bright, about the current US wars, this in a way is not surprising since his work has a focus on the southern, US Civil War dynamic.  Fair enough I suppose.  Indeed Rash’s collection points out well the problems in what I am attempting to draw attention to here and I accept that. Burning Bright is very good in its own right and indeed all the collections are worthy.  It’s just as I say: how can you, you know… (… THE WAR).  It’s still on everyone, isn’t it?  Right now.

The Short List:

If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This (Picador UK, 2010) by Robin Black
Mattaponi Queen (Graywolf Press, 2010) by Belle Boggs
Wild Child (Bloomsbury, 2010) by TC Boyle
The Shieling (Comma Press, 2009) by David Constantine
Burning Bright (HarperCollins, 2010) by Ron Rash
What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us (Dzanc Books, 2009) by Laura van den Berg

Note: TC Boyle had to withdraw from the final contest due to an his inability to travel to Cork for the Festival.

The Long List is here.  (Scroll to the end.)

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‘Misfit’, a new play about Captain Jack White

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co-founder of the Irish Citizen ArmyReview of ‘Misfit’, a new play about the life of Captain Jack White.  Written and performed by Myles Horgan.  At the Cork Arts Theatre, 16th -18th June 2010

I’ve had an interest in Captain Jack White since reading an article about him by Alan McSimoin in Workers Solidarity many years ago.  Alan’s article pointed out how White had been ‘left out’ of the official narrative of Irish history despite his role as co-founder of the Irish Citizen Army.  Later on White gravitated towards anarchism – an allegiance that also appears to have done him no favours. (In official circles that is.)

In this context, Myles Horgan’s new one man show about White entitled ‘Misfit’ was a must see, although I almost missed it but for a late tip-off from a comrade over in Solidarity Books.  Still I got to the Cork Arts Theatre last Friday just in time for the final lunch time show.  It was well worth seeing.  At €10 entry price though – pricey.

‘Misfit’ is a short one act, one man show – a biopic that for the most part is faithful to the account that White gives about his life in his autobiography of the same name.  It begins with White telling of his arrival in Barcelona in late 1936.  From there the action moves back in time with White retelling the story of his life.  The material used here is well written, well presented and well acted.  We hear of White’s experiences in the Boer War, about his troubled relationship with Mercedes Moseley, and then of his involvement in the fight for Home Rule. From his political baptism of fire in Antrim, White went to Dublin where he became involved in the 1913 Lockout and, from then on, with the Irish radical left.  We hear about White’s role in the Irish Citizen Army and then about White’s arrest and incarceration in Pentonville prison just at the time that Casement was hanged.  The play finally returns to Spain and to White’s brief but interesting comments about the situation there.  It ends with a declaration by White that any true revolution must involve the inner transformation of the human person above all else.

Myles Horgan makes a fine hand of playing White.  Dressed in a light grey suit and wearing the signature  wide-brimmed hat that White was photographed in, he cuts the sort of swaggering figure that White may well have been.  He also makes a good hand of White’s upper crust accent and this alone is enough to make one wonder what his contemporaries made of him.  In a conversation with White’s son, Derek, a number of years back, it was pointed out to me that Jack White had a pampered and spoiled upbringing and that this facet was an aspect of this life until the day he died.  Whether this is true or not, there is no denying that White was of privileged stock and in the movement of the day this undoubtedly raised more than a few eyebrows and hackles.  Indeed if memory serves me right Larkin fell out with White about such matters since Larkin was not reticent in giving his opinions about White privileged background.

However while very welcomed, this play has shortcomings too, not least its focus on White as an the individualist and as an eccentric.  It is true that this is how White’s portrayed himself in Misfit , which was published in early 1920.  However Misfit only accounts for a part of White’s life.  It was also written in the context of White trying to explain himself to the Anglo-Irish and British establishment that he had rejected.  In other words those parts of White’s life that are most noteworthy now: his prominent role in opposing Loyalism and British imperialism; his work to help the Spanish Revolution and  his important opposition to Stalinism don’t really figure in this biopic.  This is a real pity as White’s views on the need to get rid of capitalism and replace it with a society more befitting human needs have real contemporary resonance and relevance.

That said this play is to be welcomed.  It was also enjoyable and interesting to see.  Hopefully it will see further on stage exposure and make a return visit at some stage.

Irish short story about Garda brutality online

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I’ve put up an audio (mp3 format) of But Your Mother, the second story from The Heavy Gang triptych of stories I wrote in the late 90s.  The story is about the ‘hidden from view’ intimidation that political activists have to face when they take a stand against injustice.  It is told from the point of view of the activist who arrives home from a protest about unemployment only to find that the Special Branch have been to his house and gone.

Take a listen … and let me know what you think.

Ambassador Gabriel Byrne and ‘Brand Ireland’ … No thanks

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I woke up this morning to a sweetly sick interview on Morning Ireland with the actor Gabriel Byrne.  I don’t know if this is official or not but Gabriel is Ireland’s new cultural ambassador.  Maybe that’s just for the day that’s in it – St Patrick’s Day – but my impression is is that it is for much longer and is part of an initiative to ‘sell’ Ireland abroad particularly using its artistic and cultural achievements.   In the interview, such terms were bandied around like ‘selling Ireland’, and ‘Brand Ireland’ and so on and so on.  As is befitting of Ireland’s RTE news and TV service, the interviewer asked NO penetrating questions nor were any of these loaded terms either discussed, elaborated on or contended in any way.  No, the way it is is that this is all a good thing.  No dissention, no dissection of what is at stake – no anything really.  Both interviewer and interviewee were in agreement that the commodification of culture and ideas for some bottom line benefit to Ireland in the area of ‘jobs’ could only be a good thing.  Well sorry there, but I happen to work in this area and I don’t think it is a good idea at all.

Byrne explained his interest in all of this in terms of that age old fairy tale.  In his own family, his brothers and sisters have lost jobs and been thrown on the dole. What can he do?  Well, of course, he must use his position to go to the great King and ask for any crumbs from the table since Gabriel has been the jester in his day and he knows the lighter side of the King’s manner (Hollywood) and has benefitted from his largesse.  Nice Gabriel!  I was impressed at how all of what he was proposing to do as Ireland’s cultural ambassador was NOT being done for Ireland’s business class.  Oh no, Gabriel is doing all this for Irish workers and the working class so they can get some jobs and have ‘a deysant future’.  Oh come on now, Gabriel.

So much was glossed over.  Like the following.  Only a certain projection of Irish culture will be used in any situation where our culture is used to ‘sell’ who and what we are.  Of course this is true.  The projection that will be used will centre on values in Irish culture and art that don’t threaten capitalism.  Anti-capitalism, anti-authoritarianism – the spirit of defiance and autonomy in what we do – will be ignored and downgraded.  You don’t have to be a genius to figure out why.  In any commercial transaction not being offensive to the client is crucial.

This selling of a ‘cleansed image’ of Irish art and cultural production as part of Gabriel’s efforts will have an negative impact right now.   It will add impetus to the current trend that homogenises and streamlines cultural production in this country.  Is is already hard for those outside the ‘official’ and ‘accepted’ art production areas to make a living; this will worsen our situation.

Since the United States was mentioned in the interview, I have to address it.  Clearly Ireland and the US have a longstanding relationship.  It is many faceted.  But here again a certain aspect was promoted. Byrne was clear in the interview that Ireland (ie our art and cultural force) has something to say to the corporations.  We, he argued, could help the corporations.  I kid you not.  So nothing here about the structure, role and self-serving nature of ‘corporations’.   I mean it wouldn’t be stretching things to say corporations are very dangerous and self- interested entities whose principal aim is exploitation for profit.   Their role in creating poverty and inequality right throughout the world is fairly damning.   Are we going to be critical of these multinationals?  Hell no, Gabriel is going to have us out there helping them!

One last thing.  Right now, where has all this come from – this little initiative from Gabriel?  Well if you have been following events in the last few years then you will know about the ‘economic crisis’.  And of course even the dogs in the street know that that crisis is intimately linked in terms of its causes to that big disastrous idea that so many in the world have have to deal with day in, day out … Yes, you have it in one: capitalism.   So is it really a good idea that (Ireland’s) ‘art’ and ‘culture’ is to be hived off into this nebulous and offensive concept of ‘Brand Ireland’ to rescue capitalism?

The Secret River and ‘The Lucky Country’

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The Secret River

Columbus’s journey to the Americas marked the beginning of a long and uninterrupted war against the peoples of the non-European world.   After invasion, came suppression and annihilation – not necessarily in that order.  Militarily, the European regimes – the Spanish, Portuguese, English, French for example – were superior entities.  They were ruthless and their hunger for new land and wealth was insatiable.  About all of this, much is now known.  For example Chomsky’s Year 501: The Conquest Continues give a good overview and perspective on what befell so many of the indigenous of the world.

Australia was an important theatre in this war. Its huge landmass was the subject of penetrative explorations from the 1600s on, and was finally declared ‘discovered’ by Cook in 1770.  Cook’s claim on behalf of Great Britain marks the beginning of a harrowing period in the history of those peoples that lived on the continent – a catastrophe for the Aborigines as the Holocaust is the Jews or the Nakba is for the Palestinians.

The war against the aboriginal peoples of Australia goes on to this day.  It is a war that has waxed and waned in termed of its intensity – veering from outright genocidal attacks on different tribes to more systematic efforts to undermine and destroy the social and cultural structure of the aborigines.  For those interested in exploring this history, I would particularly recommend Noel Olive’s Enough Is Enough which focuses on the experience of the aborigines of Western Australia and their efforts to weather the unceasing war that was conducted against them.

Into this harrowing and ongoing narrative comes an accomplished work of fiction – from one of Australia’s better known writers, Kate Greenville.  Entitled The Secret River, it was inspired in its inception by the stories told to Greenville by her grandmother about her own family’s coming to Australia.  The Secret River puts faces, names and feelings to a few of those who were the foot-soldiers of Conquest 501.  It is a powerfully told story, disciplined, revealing and ultimately damning.  It is a fine example of what top rate political fiction should be.

Grenville’s story centers on the life of William Thornhill.  After a long sea journey, he is put ashore into the small colony that is Sydney where he must fend for his family and his future. The story backtracks and we learn of the conditions that led to Thornhill’s deportation to Australia.  A working man, through illness and bad luck, he falls on hard times.  Involved in a botched effort to rob from a boat on the Thames in London, he is arrested, tried and sentenced to .  All but bereft of hope he is saved from the gallows by the efforts of his wife, Sal, the constant good fortune of his difficult life.  It is deportation instead of and so Thornhill ends up in Australia.

Like most people, Thornhill is a good person.  His only crime to date is that he has been born poor in a mean, ruthless London.  He takes with him to Australia an awareness of his place and he is not content with it.  He also knows what it is like to be poor and to be on the lowest rung in society.  In Australia he sees the same mean and privileged system that all but ed him back in England.  But there is a difference: there are more opportunities in this new land.   He works hard to become ‘a freeman’ once more and eventually does.  But he knows too that he still must thieve if he is ever to save anything from the daily grind that is his lot.  He learns how to be a better thief – to take small amounts and not get caught.   He sets up a bar with Sal and gradually his family does well.  Soon he makes his first journey outside the colony and via this he sees the vast and beautiful land that lies outside the decrepit colony that is Sydney.  Others around him are already laying claim to these very lands and he too finds himself caught up in the quest.  He sees a small finger of land that catches his eye which he names Thornhill’s Point.  He decides to make it his.

But the land he chooses is not ‘free’ land.  Is is used by the aborigines.  They visit the land and move through it; they also grow food of their own in various chosen areas. One of Thornhill’s first acts is to pull up their plants.  There is standoff but the aborigines do not attempt to remove him.  He and his family fall into an uneasy arrangement; the aborigines come and go while Thornhill establishes his ownership in terms of his own sense of what that entails: he builds a dwelling, establishes boundaries and plants crops.

The situation around him is changing quickly.  Other settlers are also claiming land.  Some make a point of living harmoniously with the aborigines but others are intent on and enslavement.  Thornhill wants no part in the latter and both he and Sal are thrown into a moral dilemma as they become aware of some of the crimes that are being carried out by the settlers.   Thornhill feels uneasy but he feels threatened too.  He is aware that what he is doing is not right but he is determined never to go back to what he barely escaped from with life – his old life as a poor man with no standing.  He prospers while Sal prods him about returning home to London one day; her big hope.

Thornhill was saved from the gallows.  The brutal system that almost killed him, spared him at the very last moment; it had some humanity in it.  Now Thornhill moves into a position where he will have the power to decide whether another human being lives or dies; in a sense the wheel has come the full circle for Thornhill.

We know the outcome and we know what happened.  Nonetheless the conclusion of this fine account of early Australia does not disappoint as it attempts to grapple with the crimes of the past.  In Thornhill’s story we see an honest, good man descending to the level of ed and thief.  The consequences of this are that in time his kit and kin will become the heirs to modern Australia and the heirs too to great wealth.  But it is an ascent that is washed through with – driven on by a foreboding memory of brutal exploitation left behind in Europe.

Grenville’s writing is superb.  It does justice to the harrowing story and is fateful throughout to the characters and their predicaments.  In some ways The Secret River  seems like an obvious story to tell.   But in Australia it would be a mistake to think this is so.  The ‘Lucky Country’, as it is called, is a place were vast numbers of people have willfully constructed a different narrative for how they came to take possession of that land and place.  The this ‘official’ narrative that Australia was in fact ‘terra nullius’ and that those who went there civilised the place and its people remains a cruel lie that still bears down on the peoples of that place.  Grenville has produced a fine book and has also done a small but important service to all those who live and struggle with the legacy of oppression and genocide.

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