Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The White Earth - Andrew McGahan

William is only eight years old when he sees the mushroom cloud of smoke on the horizon, and at first he doesn't understand what it means. Only in the rush of cars and people to his farmhouse in the Darling Downs does he realise that his father has been killed.

After the funeral, William and his unstable mother accept the charity of a great-uncle he never knew existed and go to live at Kuran House. William soon realises however, that his invitation to the station was not an act of charity: his uncle, after finally obtaining what he had worked for his whole life, needs someone to ensure that his legacy at Kuran House continues on. However, he is not going to just hand over the station to William. First he must prove himself.

The book is set against the backdrop of the Mabo ruling in 1992, when the Australian government recognised that the Aboriginal people had owned the land prior to white settlement, and still had a claim on it. William's Uncle John is a member of the Australian Independence League, essentially an organisation to protect the interests of white farmers, but in the book is taken over by white pride zealots. While William enjoys the camaraderie of the League, he soon begins to question its motives and its arguement.

I'd never heard of The White Earthuntil I started looking for books to put on my list, but I'm so glad I did. I was pretty little when the Mabo ruling was made, so it was interesting to be able to view it from this angle. There is also something very Dickensian about the story, with the hermit uncle living in a dilapidated old farmhouse and the general feel of the story.

I definitely recommend it, it's a fantastic read.