Two Old Men Dying by Tom Keneally

1. First lines 2. Publisher: Penguin  3. Lake Mungo panorama by Henczar. Licence CC BY-SA 4.0 from Wikimedia Commons
I really liked this book.
A dream-like imagining of the lives of Indigenous Australians of 42000 years ago.

Quotes from the book:

  • “He does not know that the killing bone is meant to go down the  the base of his handsome laughing throat.”
  • “I think if Monet had ever met the banksia he wouldn’t have wasted time on pallid irises. Banks was the first European we know to have encountered this splendid plant and its big flowering cone. He must have thought, when he saw it on the shores of Botany Bay where the airport is now, that he had hit the naturalist jackpot.”
  • On the weaving ground my daughter worked with the older weavers. The reeds were best here, in the country of lakes, and when we went out there on the Nightside to trade for ochre, and off to the Morningside for flint, our nets were seen by the women of these distant places as far preferable to anything they made in their own country.”
  • I remembered my 92-year old father’s response to doctors who were advising wariness and new habits of care. ‘How old and bored do you bloody-well want me to be?’ He challenged one physician.”

Plot summary:

Mungo Man (named Learned Man by the author) is the human skeleton unearthed in 1974 at Lake Mungo in New South Wales. Carbon-dating revealed its age at 42000 years old, making it the oldest human bones found in Australia. The author has spun an imagined story of his life in the Pleistocene Era. Alongside the story of Learned Man, is the story of an aging filmmaker who makes documentaries about the discovery.


  • As a portrait of passion, belonging, anger and forgiveness in marriage, in whatever stage of evolution, this book is deeply affecting. The alternation of their lives becomes repetitive after a while, but just as it does, Keneally kicks into another gear.” Full review: Sydney Morning Herald 
  • “Both perspectives in Two Old Men Dying will fascinate Keneally’s dedicated followers who have come to expect daring narratives dealing with themes of family, morality and moral responsibility. It will especially appeal to readers with an interest in prehistorical stories contrasted against modern Australian life.” Full review: Books and Publishing

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