Read The White Earth by Andrew McGahan Free Online
Book Title: The White Earth|
The author of the book: Andrew McGahan
ISBN 13: 9781741141474
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 23.31 MB
City - Country: No data
Loaded: 1902 times
Reader ratings: 4.6
Edition: Allen & Unwin
Date of issue: May 1st 2004
Read full description of the books:
The publicity blurb for this intriguing book touts it as Part family saga, part history and part gothic thriller. This is a pretty accurate description of a grim but compelling story.
The title does not reflect any reality, but rather is a reference to the White family who once owned a large pastoral station, Kuran, on the northern fringes of the Darling Downs, west of Brisbane. With that dynasty long gone, the property is now in the hands of John McIvor, son of the former station manager, Daniel McIvor. The father had grandiose plans for John to acquire ownership of Kuran Station through marriage to the last remaining White descendent. His big ideas came to nought and subsequently John worked long and hard to purchase Kuran, which he saw, in some misguided way, as his birthright.
When the story opens in 1993, John is an elderly widower , living in the dilapidated ruins of a once grand mansion, Kuran House, amid the memories and ghosts of the previous occupants. Deeply conservative in both his morals and politics, John becomes an activist, campaigning against the proposed legislation for Native Title, in the wake of the Australian High Court’s Mabo judgment.
While John is a key figure in The White Earth, the story revolves around his 9 year old great nephew, William. The young boy recently lost his father in a farming accident, and he and his mother, the vapid Veronica, are taken in by John, to live at the crumbling mansion, which is falling down around them. McGahan’s descriptions of the House (the word is always capitalised through the book) contribute to the Gothic atmosphere of the book. The sense of neglect, mould, decay, and sadness saturates the pages, and the brooding, grim House with its weird noises and mysterious rooms becomes like a character in the novel. Outback version of the classic ‘haunted house’? You betcha!
The motif of rot is a dominant theme in this book. The decay which pervades all areas of Kuran Station is echoed by the stinking rot eating away inside William’s head, as his medical condition is allowed to continue undiagnosed and untreated by the negligent adults around him. The other key motif of The White Earth is fire. This is not warm, healing, nurturing fire, but rather damaging flames, cruel, catastrophic, surreal. It is throughout the device of fire that the paranormal elements of this book are best conveyed.
Not being a fan of paranormal novels, I approached the ‘ghost story’ part of this book with a degree of scepticism. In the end I found that McGahan’s skill as a writer eased my anxieties, and the supernatural elements added greatly to the story and to the sense of the Gothic.
While the narrative of the book is driven by the story of John McIvor’s passion for possession of land and, ultimately, ownership of Kuran Station, the underlying story is that of ideas about ‘country’, and the dispossession of the indigenous inhabitants. McIvor’s obsession plays out in his creation of an arch-conservative political lobby group, eerily similar to the emergence in Australian society of Pauline Hanson and One Nation in the mid 1990s. The earlier history of the Whites and McIvors is gradually disclosed, of brutal treatment of indigenous people as white settlers invaded ‘country’ in pursuit of their dreams of ownership and wealth from the land. And indeed, that brutality comes back to haunt the present generation.
It is interesting to read this novel some 20 years after the Mabo decision and the passage of the Native Title laws. Although I did not plan it, I was fortunate to read this book during NAIDOC Week 2015, and during the days that the Constitution Committee was meeting with Aboriginal stakeholders about the plans for a referendum to formally recognise the first inhabitants in the Australian Constitution. How timely was that? It caused me to reflect on the plight of indigenous Australians today, and whether anything much has changed since the heady days when the passage of the Native Title Act promised great benefits for our Aboriginal population.
I must confess that it took me a long time to read this book. Every so often I had to put it down and have a little rest. Although brilliant, it is an unremittingly grim story. I had this deep compassion for young, sweet, naive William, who is surrounded by some of the most unattractive characters you could ever read in a novel. His mother, Veronica, is a weak, self-centred person, hell-bent on acquiring McIvor wealth for herself. The gaunt house-keeper Mrs Griffith is a sinister presence, straight out of English gothic novels (think Mrs Danvers), with her own agenda regarding ownership. John’s estranged daughter Ruth returns to Kuran House at Mrs Griffith’s request, but their relationship remains embittered and ugly. Each of these unpleasant women manipulates William in some way to further their own unscrupulous ambitions. Above all, William is trapped in the thrall of his dour, scheming, hard-hearted great uncle. John harbours a wish for William, his last remaining male relative, to inherit Kuran, but the boy must prove himself worthy of what is, in his deluded mind, a priceless bequest. Driven relentlessly by his vision for the future, he puts the 9 year old through some cruel experiences, designed to test the boy’s mettle. Meanwhile, the child has a serious medical problem, is half-starved, rarely clean, and prevented from leaving the property to attend school or mix in society.
I had to know William’s fate, so I kept reading to the very end, despite my reservations. There is not a single positive female figure in this book. Most of the males are either incompetent or evil. The land is blighted, by years of drought and by its hidden history of bloodshed. The house and all the outbuildings are ruinous. Even the one sweet spot in the landscape, the deliciously cool, green waterhole, has its dark secret.
Yet, despite all these negatives, I think The White Earth is a brilliant book, and well worth reading. It won the Age Book of the Year - Fiction in 2004, deservedly so, in my opinion.
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Read information about the authorBorn in Dalby, Queensland, McGahan was the ninth of ten children and grew up on a wheat farm. His schooling was at St Columba’s and St Mary’s colleges in Dalby, and then Marist College Ashgrove in Brisbane. He commenced an Arts degree at the University of Queensland, but dropped out halfway through, in 1985, to return to the family farm, and to commence his first novel – which was never published. He then spent the next few years working in a variety of jobs, until 1991, when he wrote his first published novel, Praise.
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