The fierce country by Stephen Orr
Wakefield Press, 2018. ISBN 9781743055748
(Age: 14+) Recommended. True stories.
Forget the spiders, snakes and crocodiles, the true danger of Australia is its fierce heart, the harsh country that has continually challenged those who dare venture here. Stephen Orr's collection of stories are all true, some will be familiar to readers from past newspaper reports, others less known or forgotten, from the 1830s to the present day. He calls it Australia's unsettled heart, evoking not just the scarcity of people but also the sense of unease, and of something disturbed, beginning with the intrusion of white settlers and explorers, intent on conquering the land and dispersing the Aboriginal people. He tells of the black line in Tasmania, the Myall Creek massacre in New South Wales and the resistance of Jandamarra in the Kimberleys. But the stories reveal not just a frontier conflict with the people, it is a conflict with the land itself. People venture into a land that they have no understanding of, no appreciation of its power - so there are the stories of men, women, children and families who perish in the desert - the Calvert expedition of the 1890s, Lasseter in the 1930s, Nicholas Bannon in 1959, the Page family on the Birdsville Track in 1963, the jackeroos Simon Amos and James Annetts in 1986, Austrian tourist Caroline Grossmueller in 1998, and so on.
And then there are the stories of the murderers and felons who roam the interior - the stories of the Gatton murders, the Murchison murders, the disappearance of Peter Falconio, the murder of Imran Zilic. Australian cinema has drawn on this horror with films such as 'Wake in Fright', 'Picnic at Hanging Rock', and 'Wolf Creek'.
As Stephen Orr says, these are just a few of the stories, there are hundreds more. He writes
"...the legacy of the last 200 years will be hard to shake. We are still tempted to see our country as some sort of marauding monster... Then there is the realisation we are the aliens...
The Fierce Country holds no malice, but neither pity. It just sits, and bakes, and waits. We do the rest. We provoke it... Misunderstand it... Resent it..."
I recommend this book for students of Australian history, for readers of non-fiction, for readers of murder and mystery stories, for anyone who just enjoys a good collection of short stories.