A Commonwealth of Thieves

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In this spirited history of the remarkable first four years of the convict settlement of Australia, Thomas Keneally offers us a human view of a fascinating piece of history. Combining the authority of a renowned historian with a brilliant narrative flair, Keneally gives us an inside view of this unprecedented experiment from the perspective of the new colony’s governor, Arthur Phillips. Using personal journals and documents, Keneally re-creates the hellish overseas voyage and the challenges Phillips faced upon arrival: unruly convicts, disgruntled officers, bewildered and hostile natives, food shortages, and disease. He also offers captivating portrayals of Aborigines and of convict settlers who were determined to begin their lives anew. A Commonwealth of Thieves immerses us in the fledgling penal colony and conjures up the thrills and hardships of those first four improbable years.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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About the author

THOMAS KENEALLY has won international acclaim for his novels Schindler’s List (the basis for the movie and the winner of the Booker Prize), The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Confederates, Gossip from the Forest, The Playmaker, Woman of the Inner Sea, A River Town, Office of Innocence, and The Tyrant’s Novel. His most recent works of nonfiction are The Great Shame and American Scoundrel. He resides in Sydney, Australia.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Anchor
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Published on
Dec 4, 2007
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Pages
400
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ISBN
9780307387578
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Australia & New Zealand
History / Modern / 17th Century
History / Oceania
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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In this volume of a unique history of Australia where people are always centre stage, bestselling author Thomas Keneally brings to life the vast range of characters who have formed our national story.

Convicts and Aborigines, settlers and soldiers, patriots and reformers, bushrangers and gold seekers, it is from their lives and their stories that he has woven a vibrant history to do full justice to the rich and colourful nature of our unique national character.

The story begins by looking at European occupation through Aboriginal eyes as we move between the city slums and rural hovels of eighteenth century Britain and the shores of Port Jackson. We spend time on the low-roofed convict decks of transports, and we see the bewilderment of the Eora people as they see the first ships of turaga, or 'ghost people'. We follow the daily round of Bennelong and his wife Barangaroo, and the tribulations of warrior Windradyne. Convicts like Solomon Wiseman and John Wilson find their feet and even fortune, while Henry Parkes' arrival as a penniless immigrant gives few clues to the national statesman he was to become. We follow the treks of the Chinese diggers - the Celestials - to the goldfields, and revolutionaries like Italian Raffaello Carboni and black American John Joseph bring us the drama of the Eureka uprising.

Were the first European mothers whores or matriarchs? Was the first generation of Australian children the luckiest or unluckiest on the planet? How did this often cruel and brutal penal experiment lead to a coherent civil society? To answer these and many more questions Thomas Keneally has brought to life the high and the low, the convict and the free of early Australian society.

This is truly a new history of Australia, by an author of outstanding literary skill and experience, and whose own humanity permeates every page.
Australia emerged from World War I into a decade of profound change, characterised by a revolution in behaviour amongst the young; by the first great age of consumerism; and by secret right wing armies and the growth of the Communist Party.

As in the two previous volumes of Australians, Thomas Keneally brings history to vivid and pulsating life as he traces the lives and the deeds of Australians known and unknown. He follows the famous and the infamous through the Great Crash and the rise of Fascism, and explains how Australia was inexorably drawn into a war that led her forces into combat throughout Asia, Africa, Europe and the Pacific. At home an atmosphere of fear grew with the fall of Singapore and the bombing of Darwin, the Japanese advance and then the arrival of General MacArthur.

The 1950s-depicted by some as an age of full employment, by others as the age of suburban spread and boredom under the serene prime ministership of Robert Menzies-were as complicated as Menzies himself. Most Australians believed there would be nuclear war before the end of the decade. The Korean War and British testing of the atomic bomb in South Australia were seen as preludes. With the defection of the Soviet spy Ivan Petrov, Australians were convinced they were living in the last of days. On the street, the face of Australia was undergoing an Italian, Greek and Slavic-led change. And in even greater upheaval, Asian trade and immigration were coming our way as we advanced towards a war in Vietnam and the firming of the American alliance. The result of masterly writing and exhaustive research, this volume of Australians brings our more recent history to vibrant and robust life.

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