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The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's…

The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding (original 1986; edition 1987)

by Robert Hughes

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3,050432,743 (4)154
Title:The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding
Authors:Robert Hughes
Info:Pan (1988), Paperback, 688 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:history, Australia, founding, colony, convict, convicts, Sydney

Work details

The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes (1986)

Recently added byGrant-Ross, private library, NathanielPoe, RachelS_89, Matthew.Hodgman
Legacy LibrariesTerence Kemp McKenna

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» See also 154 mentions

English (41)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (43)
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
It was a first-rate read, though I found that it plods in a few places. The narrative gets thick here and there. Historians and critics can't always help themselves, I guess. The most interesting thing about the history of Australia -- I found -- is that after closure of the British penal colony, after gaining independence, almost the first thing the new Australian government did was establish its OWN penal system. As Art Linkletter used to say: People are funny. ( )
  NathanielPoe | Feb 14, 2019 |
Good on you, Australia! A rough history, to be sure, but you have more than overcome. I'd often heard of the convict settlements, but had no idea of the brutality that was suffered, or the odds that were laid against the founding of the colony. Goes to show what humanity is capable of , both the bad, and the good. ( )
  snotbottom | Sep 19, 2018 |
Growing up in Australia in the 1970s and 80s the Australian history I was taught consisted of Captain Cook, the First Fleet, explorers and the fact that sometimes they had spears thrown at them, bushrangers and a bit of local South Australian history. It was mentioned that there were convicts in Australia but nothing more. These days I’d like to think there would be more coverage of Aboriginals and convicts, with “The Fatal Shore” used as a primary text for covering the latter.

Extremely well written and as fine a tribute to those thousands of English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh men and women sent to Australia as one could wish, “The Fatal Shore” doesn’t flinch as it covers the godawful conditions the convicts were held in, from the foetid atmosphere on their boat trip over to the particularly non-PC working conditions they laboured under, the torture of the cat o’ nine tails if one got out of step and the ultimate penalty of Norfolk Island.

Intermixed in this is more sodomy than I thought possible, genocide and a streak of cruelty that still astonishes centuries later. ( )
1 vote MiaCulpa | Jun 5, 2017 |
This is disturbing, compelling and fascinating reading. A must read for all those interested in knowing more about the incredibly cruel and complex first 100 years of white Australia. It's an especially provocative reflection on the issue of punishment versus reform or rehabilitation, and also a great expose of the destructive force of power in the wrong hands. ( )
  CarolPreston | Apr 25, 2016 |
Fantastic history. The odd theory of exiling criminals to start a colony - the tragic history of the encounter between 18th century Western Civilization and the Native Australians - the bizarre end of the system with the Gold Rushes. Another lesson in "the past is another world". The details of the prison life are so disgusting and brutal - that part of the book seemed to last forever. I highly recommend this book. ( )
  joeydag | Jul 23, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
Hughes' descriptions of sadism and suffering, desperate escape attempts, rape, murder, cannibalism, and forays into the bush to exterminate the aboriginal and other indigenous peoples, become, in their accumulation, wearying, mind-numbing. Yet it is the story of the founding of a modern nation whose development was coetaneous with the last century of America's slave period, if even more savage and barbaric. "The Fatal Shore" is an unexpected, original and important work of history.
Hughes might have attempted this book in his youth, and got the story out of proportion, even if he had not skimped it. Fortunately, he has made The Fatal Shore the magnum opus of his maturity. By now his sense of historical scale is sound, as for this task it needed to be. It would have been easy to call the Australian system of penal settlements a Gulag Archipelago before the fact. The term ‘concentration camp’, in its full modern sense, would not have been out of place: at least one of the system’s satellites, Norfolk Island, was, if not an out-and-out extermination camp, certainly designed to make its victims long for death, like Dachau in those awful years before the war when the idea was not so much to kill people as to see how much they could suffer and still want to stay alive. And, indeed, Hughes draws these parallels. The analogies are inescapable. But he doesn’t let them do his thinking for him. He is able to bring out the full dimensions of the tragedy while keeping it in perspective. The penal colony surely prefigured the modern totalitarian catastrophe...

When there was no one else left to absorb, the real Hughes might have emerged, as happened in his prose. In those years, you could always tell what he had been reading the day before. Even today, he is a magpie for vocables: no shimmering word he spots in any of the languages he understands, and in several more that he doesn’t, is safe from being plucked loose and flown back to his nest. Omnivorous rather than eclectic, that type of curiosity is the slowest to find coherence. But his fluency was always his own, and by persistence he has arrived at a solidity to match it: a disciplined style that controls without crippling all that early virtuosity, and blessedly also contains his keen glance, getting the whole picture into a phrase the way he once got his fellow-students’ faces into a single racing line. It is exactly right, as well as funny, to call a merino sheep ‘a pompous ambling peruke’. Scores of such felicities could be picked out, but only on the understanding that they are not the book’s decoration. They are its architecture.
added by SnootyBaronet | editThe New Yorker, Clive James (Mar 23, 1987)
In the early 1970's, while filming a television program on Australian art in Port Arthur, Tasmania, the Australian-born art critic Robert Hughes became curious about the city's prisons, which date from the period (1788-1868) when criminals were shipped from the British Isles to Australia. The prisons are ''the monuments of Australia - the Paestums,'' he said recently in his New York apartment, and the period ''was an extraordinary time - an effort to exile en masse a whole class. The English felt that just as shoemakers make shoes, this class produced crime.''

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert Hughesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Verheydt, J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I have been studying how I may compare
This prison where I live unto the world:
And, for because the world is populous,
And here is not creature but myself,
I cannot do it; - yet I'll hammer't out.

Shakespeare, Richard II, V.v.
The very day we landed upon the Fatal Shore,
The planters stood around us, full twenty score or more;
They ranked us up like horses and sold us out of hand,
They chained us up to pull the plough, upon Van Dieman's Land.

Convict ballad, ca. 1825-30
che 'n la mente m'e fitta, e or m'accora,
For my Godson
Alexander Bligh Turnbull, B. 1982
a seventh-generation Australian
and for my son's godparents
Alan Moorehead, 1910-1983
Lucy Moorehead, 1908-1979
First words
INTRODUCTION -- The idea for this book occurred to me in 1974, when I was working on a series of television documentaries about Australian art.
In 1787, the twenty-eighth year of the reign of King George III, the British Government sent a fleet to colonize Australia.
che 'n la mente m'e fitta, e or m'accora,

la cara e buona imagine paterna

di voi...

e quant'io l'abbia in grado, mentr'io vivo,

convien che nella mia lingua si scerna

-- Dante, Inferno, XV, 82-87
As Sirius sailed past Point Solander, Captain John Hunter watched them flourish their spears at her and cry “Warra, warra!” These words, the first recorded ones spoken by a black to a white in Australia, meant “Go away!”
No classless society has ever existed or ever will. Every group has bottom and top dogs. The hostile glare of the decent did not prevent men and women “on the cross” from constructing pecking orders whose minuteness and punctilio were almost worthy of Versailles. From the lowest thief to the highest member of the “Swell Mob,” all was graded; the criminal milieu was a meritocracy with strong tribal overtones.
Most of a platypus’s life had to be spent foraging on the streambed for worms and insects, since it ate rather more than its own weight in food a day and had a metabolic rate like a blast furnace. Hold one of these frantic little fossils (avoiding the hind legs, which carry a poison spur, like many “cute” things in Australia) and it seems to be all heart, pumping and quivering.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0394753666, Paperback)

An extraordinary volume--even a masterpiece--about the early history of Australia that reads like the finest of novels. Hughes captures everything in this complex tableau with narrative finesse that drives the reader ever-deeper into specific facts and greater understanding. He presents compassionate understanding of the plights of colonists--both freemen and convicts--and the Aboriginal peoples they displaced. One of the very best works of history I have ever read.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:24 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Draws on diverse original materials to recount the European settlement of Australia, from the 1788 landing of the first prison fleet to 1868.

(summary from another edition)

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