Tag Archives: Australia

For the term of his natural life

Marcus Clarke

This really is a ripping yarn. A tale of convict Australia, and the harsh prisons of Port Macquarie, Port Arthur, and Norfolk Island. It follows the story of “Rufus Dawes”, a man wrongly convicted for murder and transported to Australia.

Interestingly we only see brief glimpses of Dawes for about the first third of the novel. What we do see are mutinies, crime, punishment, heroism, love, and the very harsh landscape of the penal colonies of Tasmania.

Clarke draws well rounded characters. He shows human nature at its best and worst. Not all convicts are bad, but some of them are very nasty. Whatever the nature of the convict, you have got to feel appalled at their treatment and condition at Port Arthur and Norfolk Island.

The authorities are completely sure they are right. The gaolers would be tried war crimes in different times.

This novel was first published in serial form from 1870 to 1872. For me, interestingly from me, this novel was written only about 20 years after the closure of the penal colony of Port Arthur. It was popular at the time, which tells me that society had changed … or the make up of that society as the prisoners gained their freedom and the injustices of the justice system had come to light.

It was a rollicking read. One of its time, so it’s not hard to read but it is long and uses the language of the day. I did find it quite depressing because of what continuously happens Dawes. There seem to be no breaks, and not everybody gets their comeuppance.

I have read some literary articles about this novel, but they were focused on theses and I really just wanted to talk about the yarn.

Feel free to disagree.



By Peter Carey

An amazing and epic novel. I like Peter Carey, and have been meaning to read Illywhacker for years. This really didn’t disappoint. It was a long novel, and my train read over the past few weeks.

An illywhacker is essentially a con man.  The novel is narrated by Herbert Badgery, the central character in the novel.   Badgery begins by telling us that he is 139 years old, and that he is liar who is about to tell a story that may be all lies.

Badgery tells us about his life and about the lives of his friends and family. There are laugh out loud moments, there are very sad moments.   It is about life, and indeed lies.   For all of his lies and con-man ways, Herbert Badgery appears truthful and honest.   It is not necessarily the chareletons who lie, but everybody, including the lies we tell ourselves to make our lives bearable.

Illywhacker is a great Australian novel that examines closely what it is to be Australian.   Things that we know to be quintessentially Australian are exposed as lies.   The very truthful in this novel  suffer greatly.

Sometimes I found Herbert Badgery loathesome, but mostly intriguing.   There are some wonderful characters in this novel.   One of my favorites in Badgery’s son, Charles.   I suppose I just want to protect Charles.   He isn’t witty or charming, or good looking.   Despite his social and physical impediments and the way he looks, he makes good (the myth/lie of the Aussie battler).   But Charles is very truthful which, in this novel, is his downfall.

It is long, and I do feel as though I have taken a journeys.    It covers great periods in Australian history, in a very personal way.     I struggled at times, but only because I was tired.    I did like this novel.   The ending wasstrange, but I was very tired when I read it, and perhaps it is all part of the “lie”.