Herbert, Xavier "Capricornia" - 1938
This book was suggested to me by my Australian friends as a classic from their country. It was a tough read of sorts but not disappointing. In this novel, the author tells us of life in Australia's north at the beginning of the 20th century. The life of the white settlers as well as the Aborigines who had lived on this continent for whoever knows how long, the new life created by the two, the "half-breeds" called "yeller fellers", the "quadroons" and the problems that arise by them mixing together. I have never understood how you can believe one race to be better than another but to divide those that have both races in them into different kind of people again ... if you have an Asian parent in between your "white" and "black" ones, you are better than those that have more "black" but still worse than those with more "white" etc. Seems unbelievable and I don't even want to understand it.
A great view of a continent that I don't even know today, even less so a hundred years ago. I have a few friends in Australia and my son just spent six months there, but that doesn't teach me much about their history. However, this did. An informative story, a captivating story, a touching story.
It must have been quite a shocking book when it was published in 1938, so close still to the events, I guess a lot of people still thought that way. The author was even declared "Protect of Aborigines", I think that says it all.
A lot of the books I read about Australia covered more the convicts that were forced to immigrate to Australia, this is later and therefore tells the continuation of that tale.
Oh, and I also loved the names of the characters, almost like Charles Dickens, a lot of them are named after their occupation or some flaw in their character. The undertaker is called Joe Crowe, Mr. Bigtit is an important lawyer, O'Crimnell and O'Theef are police troopers etc. Quite funny. Which shows that the novel is also full of humour.
Good read. If you are interested in Australia, you should definitely try it. Apparently, it inspired Baz Luhrman to make his film "Australia" which I also highly recommend, although the background to the story is completely different. And placed a little later in history.
From the back cover:
"A saga of life in the Northern Territories and the clash of white and Aborigine cultures – one of Australia’s all-time best-selling novels and an inspiration for Baz Luhrmann’s lavish film 'AUSTRALIA'.
Capricornia has been described as one of Australia's 'great novels', a sharply observed chronicle about life in the Northern Territory of Australia and the inhumane treatment suffered by Aborigines at the hands of white men. The story is immense and rambling, laced with humour that is often as bitter and as harsh as the terrain in which it is set, and follows with irony the fortunes (and otherwise) of a range of Outback characters over a span of generations. Through their story is reflected the story of Australia, the clash of personalities and cultures that provide the substance on which today's society is founded. Above all, however, this is a novel of protest and of compassion - for the Aborigines and half-bloods of Australia's 'last frontier'.
Sprawling, explosive, thronged with characters, plots and sub-plots, Capricornia is without doubt one of the best known and widely read Australian novels of the last 70 years. When it was first published it was acclaimed as 'a turning point', an 'outstanding work of social protest'. Its message is as penetrating today as it was in the 1930s when Herbert himself was official 'Protector of Aborigines' at Darwin."