People of the River: Lost worlds of early Australia by Grace Karskens

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November 2020, no. 426
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Alan Atkinson reviews 'People of the River: Lost worlds of early Australia' by Grace Karskens

People of the River: Lost worlds of early Australia

by Grace Karskens

Allen & Unwin, $59.99 hb, 692 pp

Buy this book

People of the River: Lost worlds of early Australia by Grace Karskens

by
November 2020, no. 426

Grace Karskens’s previous book, The Colony (2009), which dealt with Sydney and the Cumberland Plain during the first years of invasion, was one of the great books about the early colonial period in Australia. People of the River is just as important but more profound and risky. In both, Karskens has found ways, brilliantly original ways, of taking in entire populations, and she is particularly good with webs of human connection and patterns of movement. Her focus on multi-centred relationship belongs to the twenty-first century, an age which is beginning to rethink the human individual as an interlinked being, a creature shaped by circumstance and by connection.

The river of the title is the Hawkesbury and its tributary, the Nepean, which together cut a crescent around Sydney on a roughly sixty-kilometre radius. The people of this new book are those who lived within easy reach of that noble watercourse from the 1790s into the first half of the nineteenth century. To quote the subtitle, these people, black and white, represent for us lost worlds. So many generations stand between us and them. We cannot escape the ebb and flow of generational time. As generations multiply between the present and some significant point in the past, its people become almost figments of imagination. We can hardly believe in any palpable connection with our grandparents’ grandparents as agents in their own right. They are figures in a dream.

Alan Atkinson reviews 'People of the River: Lost worlds of early Australia' by Grace Karskens

People of the River: Lost worlds of early Australia

by Grace Karskens

Allen & Unwin, $59.99 hb, 692 pp

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comment (1)

  • Thanks very much for the terrific review, Alan Atkinson. I love this book as well as 'The Colony'. I hadn’t thought about sovereignty until reading your review, so thanks for that.
    Posted by Philip Graus
    01 November 2020

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