Never more timely

Richard Flanagan

At a moment when Australians seem once more prepared to voyage forward, there has arrived a book for these new times.

In one of those moments of coincidence that a novelist is rarely allowed but life frequently offers, we have in the same week in which history is being made with the apology to the Stolen Generations, a remarkable history being published that offers a new and mature understanding of our origins.

For after what was falsely termed 'the history wars', but which was rather a perverted attempt to politicise the past in order to justify the renascent bigotries of what already seems a strange, lost decade, we have, in James Boyce's Van Diemen's Land, a landmark of historical scholarship that suggests a largeness and openness in our origins as a nation of which we need not be scared, nor ashamed, far less divided by bitterness and hate.

"a landmark of historical scholarship that suggests a largeness and openness in our origins as a nation"

Though Boyce's story is frequently terrible, this is not a work of accusation, but a history of hope.

It suggests that we are not dispossessed Europeans, but a muddy wash of peoples who were made anew in the merge of an old pre-industrial, pre-modern European culture with an extraordinary natural world and a remarkable black culture.

As much as a process of colonisation, Boyce's work suggests a history of indigenisation - a strange uneven, frequently repressed, often violent process in which a white underclass took on much of black ways of living.

It suggests we have a connection with our land not solely based on ideas of commerce, and that there are continuities in our understanding of our land that extend back into pre-history.

It is an argument, never more timely, that we are our own people, not a poor imitation of elsewhere.

[click here to read the full speech]