Echo Publishing, $29.99, 394 pp, 9781760680275
In 1961 the great Australian poet Judith Wright published an influential essay called ‘The Upside-down Hut’ that would puzzle contemporary readers. The basis of its argument was that Australia felt shame about its convict origins, and that we needed to move on. And we have: since 1961 the representation of the convict era in fiction and on screen has undergone a shift. Having convict ancestry used to be regarded as a cause for shame; now amateur genealogists hunt down convicts among their ancestors and celebrate when they find them.
Two 1960s novels in particular, Hal Porter’s The Tilted Cross (1961) and Thomas Keneally’s Bring Larks and Heroes (1967), winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award, showed the convicts of the earliest Australian colonies in a newly sympathetic light, and were followed in the 1970s by such onscreen treatments as the television series Against the Wind (1978), and in the 1980s by Robert Hughes’s unexpectedly best-selling and highly coloured history The Fatal Shore (1986).