‘…Just as It would have been in 1861’: Stuttering Colonial Beginnings in ABC’s Outback House

Part of the Reenactment History book series (REH)


In July 2005, Australian novelist Kate Grenville was invited by Radio National’s Books and Writing programme to talk about The Secret River, her latest novel loosely based on the life of her ancestor Solomon Wiseman, who had been transported to the penal colony of New South Wales in 1817 and later settled on the Hawkesbury River.1 The show’s host, Ramona Koval, congratulated Grenville on the poetic tone and language of her narrative and praised the text as ‘a wonderful and disturbing novel, full of detail about life and work in the colony … and daring descriptions of the land and the strangeness of the encounters between black and white people’.2 Grenville, in turn, read a passage from the book and reflected comprehensively on what had motivated her to write it. Then came Koval’s final question and Grenville’s reply which would irritate and preoccupy the country’s historians for months to come: ‘So, where would you slot your book’, Koval had enquired, ‘if you were laying out books on the history wars? Whereabouts would you slot yours?’ Australia’s ‘history wars’, heated debates among historians and public intellectuals over the nature of the country’s colonial legacy,3 had over the previous decade caused a deep rift between the so-called black armband historians on the political left and conservative scholars accused of wearing a ‘white blindfold’4 on the right.


Station Hand Historical Accuracy History Question Historical Writing Colonial Past 
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© Anja Schwarz 2010

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