Halfway through watching a performance of the very wonderful The Secret River at the National Theatre last night I realised I had read the book from which the play is adapted. This meant I knew there was to be no happy ending, not even a small redemptive flicker of hope.
It tells the tale of a family from London, he a now pardoned convict who was sentenced to be transported to Australia, his wife Sal who chose to accompany him, and their two young sons. Now free, William Thornhill sees the possibilities for a man like himself in this new world. He can lay stake to some land, become a farmer. What he does not understand is that this same land belongs the ‘savages’ who already live there. He sees them as rootless, nomadic. As it says in the NT’s notes, “Upon earning his pardon he discovers that this new world offers something he didn’t dare dream of: a place to call his own. But as he plants a crop and lays claim to the soil on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, he finds that this land is not his to take. Its ancient custodians are the Dharug people.”
The truth slowly and painfully dawns. Thousands are being shipped from London to this New World, the conflict over the land is bound to continue. This will not end well. Continue reading