From the Edge by Mark McKenna

From the Edge by Mark Mckenna

‘The country that we long perceived as a ‘land without history’ is one of the most deeply storied countries on earth.’

In the late eighteenth century, seventeen men set off to walk some 700 kilometres from Ninety Mile Beach (in Victoria) to Sydney.  Leaving their fellow survivors, they had set off in a long boat after the shipwreck of the ‘Sydney Cove’ off Preservation Island in Bass Strait.  When their longboat broke apart in a storm, they had no alternative to walk north following the coastline.  This story, of their walk, is also an amazing story of the support they received from the Indigenous people they encountered along the way.

There are three other stories in this book: the founding of a ‘new Singapore’ in western Arnhem Land in the 1840s; the constantly evolving story of Captain James Cook’s time in Cooktown in 1770; and the story of Australia’s largest industrial development project amongst outstanding Indigenous rock art in the Pilbara.

Each of these four stories involves different encounters between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.  Each requires me, as a non-Indigenous Australian, to think about the history I have learned and the possible interpretations of events.  Before reading this book, I knew very little about these four different stories.  I’d not heard of the walk from Ninety Mile Beach in 1797, or of the settlement in West Arnhem Land.  I’d never really thought about Captain Cook’s time in (and impact on) what we now call Cooktown in 1770.  Until recently, I’d not thought of the impact of the development of the Pilbara on those who’d occupied this ancient land long before European arrival.

I’ve enjoyed reading this book.  While I’ve learned more of the history around European arrival, I’ve also had to think (uncomfortably at times) about the impact on those who were here long before us: The Indigenous people and their culture.

I understand that ‘From the Edge’ is the first of two books intended to ‘explore Australian history through place.’  I look forward to reading the second of these books when it becomes available.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Melbourne University Publishing for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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