The First Fleet’s arrival in Australia with 750 convicts, men, women and children, has been related many times, notably by Robert Hughes in The Fatal Shore and more recently by Inga Clendinnen in Dancing with Strangers. Thomas Keneally has now given us his version.
The book starts with a grand and sweeping opening sentence:
If, in the new year of 1788, the eye of God had strayed from the main games of Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa, and idled over the huge vacancy of sea to the south-east of Africa, it would have been surprised in this empty zone to see not one, but all of eleven ships being driven east on the screaming band of westerlies.
We feel we are in good hands, ready to embark on a voyage of discovery. But this promise is not always maintained: the narrative gets weighed down at times by too much detail clamouring for attention.
Keneally’s book centres on Governor Arthur Phillip’s attempts to set up his penal colony in