26 September 2023

Australians: A Short History

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Thomas Keneally, Allen & Unwin, $39.99.

No one writes better than award-winning Australian novelist, playwright, essayist and actor, Thomas Keneally. He is prolific, committed to details, is particular about timelines and commanding when it comes to creating imagery.

Here is a skilled history of Australia and its people by an author of outstanding literary skill whose ‘own humanity permeates every page’.

Australians, Keneally’s widely-acclaimed three-volume history of the Australian people from origins to Vietnam, gave us a robust, vibrant and page-turning narrative that brought to life the vast range of characters who have formed our national story.

Australians: A Short History brings these three volumes together and reintroduces us to the rich assortment of contradictory, inspiring and surprising characters who made a young and cocky Australia.

‘It is the story of the original Australians and European occupation of their land through the convict era to pastoralists, bushrangers and gold seekers, working men, pioneering women, the rifts driven by World War I, the rise of hard-nosed radicals from the Left and the Right, the social upheavals of the Great Crash and World War II, the Menzies era, the nation changing period of post-war migration and Australia’s engagement with Asia.’

Many of Keneally’s novels are reworkings of historical material, although modern in their psychology and style.

He is well-known particularly for Schindler’s Ark (1982), later republished as Schindler’s List, which was the first novel by an Australian to win the Booker Prize. It became the basis of the film Schindler’s List. The novel was inspired by the efforts of Poldek Pfefferberg, a Holocaust survivor.

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