"'I was the Englishman overcome with enthusiasm for a barbarous place ... I walked a little way, barefooted, and then lay down in nakedness on loamy earth and began to scoop it up and inhale it. The earth groaned, so I thought, like the beloved, caressed ... Evoking no surprise in me, the night moaned in its manner, and moaned again. I cried out in a kind of response, a young man, I now see, chaste, unworldly and purposeful, howling in the silver darkness.'
"So writes John Bettany as he exhilarates in the freedom and wildness of the Australian bush on his journey into the New South Wales of the 1840s. It is thoughts such as these, discovered in his personal journals and in the desperate letters of Sarah Bernard, the convict woman he is destined to love, that draw the sisters Dimp and Prim Bettany into the adventures of their ancestors one hundred and fifty years later.
"When Sydney film producer Dimp Bettany discovers the memoirs, she is convinced she has finally found her next masterpiece. Prim, an aid worker in the Sudan who fled Australia following a disastrous love affair, cannot help becoming intrigued as, through Dimp's correspondence, the story unfolds of how John Bettany carved out a living in virgin territory under the eyes of the aboriginal Moth people, and of Sarah Bernard's internment in the notorious Female Factory, where her only friend was a murderess. As John's and Sarah's paths converge, each sister finds her life cast in a new and galvanising light.
"In this compelling portrait of two generations and of two continents, Thomas Keneally's vibrant characters and vigorous prose bring both eras alive, as he captures the timeless quests, passions and moral dilemmas that unite them."
The simultaneous loss of her parents when she was nineteen had not seemed to throw any shadow across Dimp Bettany's bright eye. Even her more dutiful sister, Primrose, admitted how infrequently and with what a shock of strangeness she remembered the fact of the instant deaths of her parents. This end, which had come in a collision on one of the hundreds of kilometres of narrow stretches of the Pacific Highway, felt, when recollected, as if it meant less to her and Dimp than it decently should.
Perhaps that was because their parents had lived orderly lives and died in an exemplary way. Despite the head-on ferocity, there were very few visible injuries except for the fatal depressed fractures. Or it may have been because their mother had been ever distracted, fretful, remote; and their father, Gordon Bettany, as irresponsibly jovial as an uncle. Rather in the spirit of his life, he was said by the coroner to have died while sleeping in the passenger seat, and with an unregistered micro-second of massive concusion. Her life ending in that same micro-second, Angela Bettany, so the sisters were told and told each other, had suffered only a few seconds of apprehension, though that thought should have been pitiable enough to haunt them.
From the Doubleday hardback edition, 2000.
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Last modified: October 18, 2005.