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People of the River

Lost worlds of early Australia

Grace Karskens



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Allen & Unwin
01 September 2020

Grace Karskens' landmark history of Australia's first successful settler farming area, which was on the Hawkesbury-Nepean River. Award-winning historian Karskens uncovers the everyday lives of ordinary people in the early colony, both Aboriginal and British.


'A masterpiece of historical writing that takes your breath away' - Tom Griffiths

'A majestic book' - John Maynard

'Shimmering prose' - Tiffany Shellam

Dyarubbin, the Hawkesbury-Nepean River, is where the two early Australias - ancient and modern - first collided. People of the River journeys into the lost worlds of the Aboriginal people and the settlers of Dyarubbin, both complex worlds with ancient roots.

The settlers who took land on the river from the mid-1790s were there because of an extraordinary experiment devised half a world away. Modern Australia was not founded as a gaol, as we usually suppose, but as a colony. Britain's felons, transported to the other side of the world, were meant to become settlers in the new colony. They made history on the river: it was the first successful white farming frontier, a community that nurtured the earliest expressions of patriotism, and it became the last bastion of eighteenth-century ways of life.

The Aboriginal people had occupied Dyarubbin for at least 50,000 years. Their history, culture and spirituality were inseparable from this river Country. Colonisation kicked off a slow and cumulative process of violence, theft of Aboriginal children and ongoing annexation of the river lands. Yet despite that sorry history, Dyarubbin's Aboriginal people managed to remain on their Country, and they still live on the river today.

The Hawkesbury-Nepean was the seedbed for settler expansion and invasion of Aboriginal lands to the north, south and west. It was the crucible of the colony, and the nation that followed.

By:   Grace Karskens
Imprint:   Allen & Unwin
Country of Publication:   Australia
Dimensions:   Height: 230mm,  Width: 170mm, 
Weight:   1.182kg
ISBN:   9781760292232
ISBN 10:   1760292230
Pages:   688
Publication Date:   01 September 2020
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active
Maps Introduction Part I Deep Country 1 Old land, first people 2 Dyarubbin Part II Frontiers 3 The great experiment 4 Contact and crossings 5 Conflict: given no peace Part III New Old Land 6 Forests and clearings 7 Farming in the bush 8 Floods and flood-mindedness 9 Commoners and strangers Part IV People of the River 10 Family fortunes 11 Family survival 12 The people's pleasures 13 Transforming cultures 14 Sacred landscapes 15 Sacred Country Epilogue Appendices Acknowledgements List of abbreviations used in the notes Notes Bibliography Index

Grace Karskens is author of The Colony, winner of the 2010 Prime Minister's Non-fiction Award, and of The Rocks, winner of the 1998 NSW Premier's History Award. She is Professor of History at the University of New South Wales and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

Reviews for People of the River: Lost worlds of early Australia

'A masterpiece of historical writing that takes your breath away' - Tom Griffiths 'A majestic book' - John Maynard 'Shimmering prose' - Tiffany Shellam

  • Commended for Non-Fiction 2021 (Australia)
  • Long-listed for Best Non-fiction 2021 (United States)
  • Long-listed for Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2021 (Australia)
  • Short-listed for Best Non-fiction 2021 (United States)
  • Short-listed for George Perkins Marsh Prize for Best Book in Environmental History 2021 (United States)
  • Short-listed for Indie Book Awards 2021 (Australia)

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