English & EAL

The Secret River: Introduction

Lisa Tran

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During 18th century to mid 19th century, 162,000 men and women were transported to Australia, with majority from England. These people, known as ‘convicts’, had committed crimes such as larceny and robbery – acts which were considered severe offenses and demanded heavy sentences. In order to deal with the overwhelming masses of criminals, the government exported crowds of convicts to Australia to serve their term as labourers. The reason driving the deportation included an attempt to decrease poverty and crime in England while concurrently developing the British colony in Australia.

Many of the fleets from England were destined for New South Wales, Australia. Those on the fleets included the criminals, marines, and their families. Living in a penal colony, the criminals were employed depending on their various skills: farmer, boatman, servant etc. The settlers were award a ‘ticket of leave’ if they presented good behaviour during labour. This meant that settlers would become emancipists, where they were set free from the government’s sentence and could begin a life for themselves by making their own living. This suited the government’s goal for a successful and thriving colony since it would only be possible if people were to work for themselves, and not under the terrain of the government.

Although Australia was chiefly populated with Indigenous Australians, the first century of colonisation saw a drastic decline in their population. This was due to a clash of desire for the land; the native’s innate protection of their land and the white settlers struggle to declare their right to an area already inhibited by natives – possibly for 40,000 years. The two cultures failed to ever create a peace agreement or compensation and as a result, the frontier was often marked with blood. Overtime, a successful of the British colony meant that white settlement overpowered any possibility of the natives retaining their land. The Secret River’s exploration of this powerful change in Australia’s history is a poignant reflection of the past, and demands attention to the sensitive issue of Australian and native relationship that is still present today.

To learn more, visit Kate Grenville’s website here.


Set during the early 19th century. Located in London, Sydney and on the Hawkesbury.

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