The Secret River (2005) & Sarah Thornhill (2011)
Several years ago I read The Secret River by Kate Grenville. Being an Australian History enthusiast, I loved re-reading this tale of William Thornhill escaping the death penalty in London, transported to New South Wales as a guest of his majesty, arriving in the year 1806. Accompanied by his courageous wife Sal and their young family, they set up home in a crude hut, Will serving out his time with Sal as his master. Life was tough in the new settlement of Sydney, however once Will was granted his freedom, his dream to become a land-owner led them to an even harsher existence.
This compelling story gives a glimpse of the strength of character and resourcefulness required to survive in those early days in Australia. The isolation particularly experienced by women would have been almost unbearable. Sal’s yearning for the familiar streets and old landmarks of her home-town of London in some small way give us an insight into the connection one can have with place and community. The most confronting aspect I found were the moral decisions faced by the early settlers, as to how to live alongside the blacks. The displacement of the indigenous people is so disturbing. I don’t think we’ll ever really understand their connection to the land, the way it was part of their very being.
Recently released Sarah Thornhill continues the story of the Thornhills from the viewpoint of the youngest of Will and Sal’s daughters, Sarah. It’s an enjoyable read, a love story, a story of family secrets. The themes of The Secret River are continued, the impact of European settlement spreading further afield. As Australians in the 21st century, we’re all well aware of how the story has progressed thus far for the indigenous. It’s is so sad that as a people they continue to suffer from the devastation of their culture.
Despite the serious and gloomy reflections I find myself sharing, I would highly recommend both of The Secret River and Sarah Thornhill, particularly for those who enjoy a family saga, a tale of courageous women and of course Australian History. Kate Grenville is most certainly an author that makes you think!