‘Colonies are built on dreams, but some dreams threaten ruin.’
Martin Sparrow, a convict expiree, is already deep in debt, dithering and drifting through life when the flood on the Hawkesbury River hits his farm in March 1806. Will he rebuild, with all the hard work that will entail? He’s heard of a paradise on the far side of the mountains, a place where men are truly free. To get there, Martin Sparrow needs to pay a toll. Choices always have consequences: who else will be caught up in Sparrow’s choice?
There are more than forty Dramatis Personae listed at the beginning of the novel, all neatly organised by category or place for those of us who can easily lose track of such important details. The story itself unfolds over five parts, with much of the first part setting the scene for what is to follow. And by the end of the first part, I was so engrossed in the story I could hardly put it down.
‘History’s naught but gossip well told.’
The main characters include the constables Alister Mackie (the chief constable on the river), Thaddeus Cuff and Dan Sprodd, Griffin Pinney (a game hunter), George Catley (a botanist), Beatrice Faa (a transportee who had been captured by sealers), and Caleb and Moowut’tin (two of the First People).
In 1806, the area around the Hawkesbury River is still frontier territory. Those who live there, pushing away the First People, are soldiers, convicts on assignment, expirees, whores and struggling famers. There are also opportunists, sly groggers and plenty of dangerous creatures.
The scene is set for an epic story, one in which the environment (alien as it is to the Europeans) is also a character. And Martin Sparrow? What does his choice mean for him, what impact does it have?
In a conversation near the end of the novel, Alister Mackie and Thaddeus Cuff have this to say:
‘If it’s Sparrow for company it’s a poor bargain.’
‘Not as poor as you might think. Affection for a fellow creature can fix a man, make him resolute, worthwhile.’
‘Sparrow is a midge, a wretch beyond salvation.’
‘Sparrow was a rudderless heart, that’s all.’
Yes, it is the making of Martin Sparrow.
I really enjoyed this novel, the way in which Mr Cochrane used an historic event (the Hawkesbury River flood of March 1806) as a starting point for this story. I finished the novel wondering what might have happened next.