Review Blog

Jul 13 2016

From corner to corner : the line of Henry Colless by Adrian Mitchell

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Wakefield Press, 2015. ISBN 9781743053690
(Age: Adults who are interested in local history) Recounting the exploits of generations of the Colless family, the story of Colonial Australia is told in a way which focuses on the efforts and achievements of everyday men and women.
When George Colless was transported to New South Wales as a convict in 1797, it could be argued that it was the best thing that ever happened to him. Certainly completing his two year sentence would have been arduous, however his prospects upon release were infinitely better than what he would have faced as an impoverished farm labourer in England. The new colony required food and George was granted land along the Nepean River and convicts to help him work it, instantly elevating his station in life.
The height and extent of the periodic floods along this river at the time are mind boggling and bring to mind Dorothea Mackellar's poem My country. Indeed George's children and grandchildren would eventually spread over the sunburnt country as far as Bourke and even Innamincka as pastoralists and drovers - alternately facing disastrously destructive floods in the wet season and searing droughts in summer. In 1888, a drought claimed more than five million sheep in New South Wales alone.
The notion of being able to claim enormous tracts of land from the Crown is difficult to fathom in modern times and it seems to follow that such individuals must have enjoyed great wealth. As shown in this work however, the price paid in terms of hardship, bankruptcy, injury and even death often outweighed any benefit.
Some however were successful and George's son Henry showed great courage, endurance and vision in his measured risk taking, undertaking ventures including droving, pastoralism, the hotel trade, horse racing and property acquisition. Henry is shown to have been a larger than life character and his exploits are amazing, and whilst not belittling them in any way, I could not help reflecting that so much could be achieved more easily in a time where little regulation existed.
Nevertheless, Henry was truly resourceful and tenacious, surviving where others didn't and prospering well enough in good times to survive the floods, droughts, economic depressions, shearers' strikes and ridiculously common property fires.
Adrian Mitchell places members from generations of the Colless family against the backdrop of our early history. He cleverly ties the activities of the family to the geography and well known characters appearing in the important events of our nation's story.
Rob Welsh

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