The secret river and the book
It's been both a confronting and a liberating experience. But that moment opened a door I'd never known was there.
The idea of perfection
Thornhill realises that Blackwood has an Aboriginal wife, and son. It was a warm moment. The family is too large and too far down the social scale to be able to get along by strictly honest means, and Will, decent at heart but pragmatic in his approach to the business of staying alive, ekes out his meagre earnings with the proceeds of petty crime. How had the local Aboriginal people taken the entry of this man and his family onto their traditional land? A reformed thief finding a niche in an apparently paradisal world and learning to live in close contact with the fruitful earth: it might be an emblem of redemption - but not in this chilling, meticulous account of the sorrows and evils of colonialism. The indigenous people had no concept of private ownership and did not build fences. It was all interesting enough, but my imagination wasn't stirred by any of it - until the day of the Reconciliation Walk across the Harbour Bridge. Spears may be primitive weapons, but settlers know that they can kill a man as surely as a ball of lead from a musket. Would the Thornhills live as peaceable neighbours with the Darug, or would they join the settlers who went out with guns to "disperse" them. Smasher, for example, quotes the early settler William Cox when he suggests the Aboriginal people should be shot and used for manuring the ground. It never crosses his mind, since the land is not settled, that it could already be owned.
However, there is a way for the convicts to buy freedom and start afresh. They have been farmers and shopkeepers and salespeople and musicians and housepainters.
The secret river and the book
The book started innocently enough, as a search into my family's past. Thornhill's wife stepped out of the shadows of the past and introduced herself, too: Sal, a woman whose life had been turned upside down when her husband had been sent to the end of the world and she had followed him. Gradually working his way through the system, Thornhill becomes a free man with his own claim to the savage land. It never crosses his mind, since the land is not settled, that it could already be owned. As interracial tension escalates into murderous violence, Will aligns himself with the forces of oppression in defence of his own interests. It's difficult to read this novel without a heavy heart, because it's obvious that not everything can possibly work out. I decided to read the novel now in anticipation of seeing this theatrical adaptation of the novel next month. The novel took five years and twenty drafts to complete. Grenville writes exactingly and with passion about the Australian landscape: the bright light, the skinny, grey-green trees that refuse to shed their leaves, the cliffs that tumble into the river through snaking mangroves. Others regarded them as not quite human, and shot them for sport. However he gets the land, it's prime riverfront acreage. I can understand that the narrative will not have the same affect on those who are not connected to the history it tells. I'm looking forward to seeing it more than ever. They might even have met. There'll be those who prefer to hang onto their preconceptions about "pioneer days" and who feel in any case that it's all so long ago, what's the point of dredging it all up again?
Some, miraculously, find ways to accommodate themselves with the Aborigines, despite their isolation, fear and brutal pasts.
The narrative describes some horrific events.
The secret river a clearing in the forest summary
What had they done, and what did my great-great-great grandfather do? It shows how events from the historical record were used in the novel, where they were changed, and the reasons for these choices. And then he has to make a decision. I found not just one man, but a whole family ripped out of one world and catapulted into another, terrifying one. It was an astonishing feeling to hear my ancestor's very words as he tried to defend himself at his trial. I'd met men just like him. Thornhill now also has another son, Richard, whom he called Dick.
Thornhill realises that Blackwood has an Aboriginal wife, and son. After befriending Blackwood under his employ, Thornhill finds a patch of land he believes will meet his needs, but his past comes back to haunt him.
How had the local Aboriginal people taken the entry of this man and his family onto their traditional land? They were confronted by choices that must have seemed impossible.
The secret river national theatre
Initially condemned to death, he is saved from the hangman's rope by Sal, whose activities on his behalf result in the more lenient sentence of transportation. My mother had told me stories about the first of our family to come to Australia - my great-great-great grandfather was a lighterman on the Thames, pinched a load of timber and was transported for the term of his natural life. The Secret River is a sad book, beautifully written and, at times, almost unbearable with the weight of loss, competing distresses and the impossibility of making amends. Grenville is particularly good on inarticulate love, and Thornhill's relationship with his wife, Sal, civilises him, makes him a good man and ensures that the reader is on his side. The indigenous people have no reason to leave the area just because settlers move in, planting crops and building huts and fences. Beyond that any resemblance ends. Research, rather than family stories, provided the material for the second half of the book. The picture of his life in Australia was much sketchier. History to Fiction Like my ancestor, William Thornhill began his life beside the Thames, was sent here as a convict, and prospered. It was important to me that the incidents and characters were solidly based on history, but as a novelist I drew on the historical sources loosely, as a starting-point for the work of the imagination. There was no information - none that I could find, anyway - about his relationship with the Darug people around him: nothing, not even a passing reference. The following weeks, Thornhill went to work as a lighterman for Mr.
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