17 October 2021

Review: BENEVOLENCE, Julie Janson

  • this edition available as an e-book from my local library through Libby
  • Published: 1st May 2020
  • ISBN: 9781925936636
  • Number Of Pages: 356
  • Publisher: Magabala Books

Synopsis (publisher

LONGLISTED, 2020 MARK & EVETTE MORAN NIB LITERARY AWARD

For perhaps the first time in novel form, Benevolence presents an important era in Australia’s history from an Aboriginal perspective. Benevolence is told from the perspective of Darug woman, Muraging (Mary James), born around 1813. Mary’s was one of the earliest Darug generations to experience the impact of British colonisation. At an early age Muraging is given over to the Parramatta Native School by her Darug father. From here she embarks on a journey of discovery and a search for a safe place to make her home.

The novel spans the years 1816-35 and is set around the Hawkesbury River area, the home of the Darug people, Parramatta and Sydney. The author interweaves historical events and characters — she shatters stereotypes and puts a human face to this Aboriginal perspective.

My Take

The author tells us at the end of the book(in ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS) that this "is a work of fiction based on historical events of the early years of British invasion and settlement around the Hawkesbury River in Western Sydney, New South Wales.

... Muraging is based on my [the author's] great-great-grandmother, Mary Ann Thomas, who was a servant on colonial estates in the Hawkesbury area. The other characters in the novel are inspired by historical figures and [my] imagination, except for the governors who are based on historical documents."

BENEVOLENCE relies heavily on research and the author's family history, and there is no denying the value of the perspective it gives us. The British invasion had a huge impact on the local Aboriginal tribes, not only with the declaration of the policy of "terra nullius" which gave white settlers the right to claim the land, but also with their so-called "benevolent' practices which put aboriginal babies into orphanages where they died, took children away from their families and put them into schools, brought with them diseases like measles, small pox, and the common cold which decimated the populations, and carried out war against those who resisted.

The novel is very graphic in the story that it tells, and will stay with readers well after reading it.

My rating: 4.4

About the author

Julie Janson's career as a playwright began when she wrote and directed plays in remote Australian Northern Territory Aboriginal communities. She is now a novelist and award-winning poet. Julie is a Burruberongal woman of Darug Aboriginal Nation. She is co-recipient of the Oodgeroo Noonuccal Poetry Prize, 2016 and winner of the Judith Wright Poetry Prize, 2019.

Her novels include, The Crocodile Hotel, Cyclops Press 2015 and The Light Horse Ghost, Nibago 2018. Julie has written and produced plays, including two at Belvoir St Theatre – Black Mary and Gunjies and Two Plays, published by Aboriginal Studies Press 1996.

Janson blends reality with fiction in a number of ways. She credits her own history as inspiration for the story, citing her great-great grandmother, Mary Ann Thomas, as the basis for Muraging. She has said that Benevolence was written as an Aboriginal response to Kate Grenville's The Secret River.

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