Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

Published 2006 Genre: Literary Fiction 1. First lines 2. Cover Giramondo Publishing 3. Storm clouds [Public Domain] via Pixabay 4. The Pleiades [CC BY-NC 2.0] via flickr (Original image has been cropped.)

This story is set in the fictional town of Desperance in the Gulf country of Queensland. Two Aboriginal groups, Norm Phantom’s Pricklebush mob and Joseph Midnight’s mob, live on both the east and west sides of the town. Other groups are Big Mozzie Fishman’s group travelling the Dreaming tracks across the land, and Will Phantom’s group of activists opposed to a mine being developed in the area. These character’s stories are woven together in this narrative that tells of their relationships, and their struggles both with each other and with the white people of the town, the country and the international mining corporation.

It came down those billions of years ago, to crawl on its heavy belly, all around the wet clay soils in the Gulf of Carpentaria.”

“Carpentaria” by Alexis Wright

Glanceabook: “The length and depth of this book is daunting for the reader, and the story-line meanders to and fro, back and forth, making it difficult to keep track of the sequence of events. Aboriginal folklore and dreams blend with reality in a way that unsettles the reader, but this is intentional, being the style of Aboriginal storytelling. The story is full of interesting characters, drawing the reader in, and offering a window into their thoughts and feelings. With this book, there is so much to take in and the writing is exceptional, and although it is uncomfortable to read about the realities of Indigenous Australian life, it’s an opportunity to increase cultural understanding..”

Griffith Review: Wright’s treatment of time and memory is layered and complex. The reader of Carpentaria is obliged to release the expectation of being firmly situated in time, as subtle slippages across narration confound orthodox assumptions about time, place and experience.

The Guardian: “To prepare: tear down your calendars, disable your phone’s clock, your complete understanding of before and now and after – because to give up those constraints of chronology will help you to float from Uptown, through the narrative, en route a stream that Wright had all intentions of setting you on, into the broken heart of the land to view the dispossession of ancestral country from the elements.”

Miles Franklin Award Judges Comments: “The temporal structure of the novel has traumatic characteristics: it features a non-linear and nonsensical circulation of mixed-up history that captures and authentically conveys how the traumatised, colonised mind struggles with ‘unacceptable history’. Carpentaria demonstrates the dynamic play between knowing and not knowing, and between speech and silence in the layers of truth about our history. As such, it stands as a profound and vital vision of twenty-first-century society and an instant classic of Australian literature.”


“A nation chants, but we know your story already.”

When the policeman came, the Phantom kids cringed like dogs, with their backs flat against the walls, trying to attain a powerless invisibility. Immobilised by fear of being seen, they listened to their thumping hearts race when they watched their father being taken away.

“He knew the old Uncles always said there were bad omens surrounding the lagoon in that heavy foreboding of the land before the Wet. They pointed to here the spirits had lain in the atmosphere, before moving freely in and out of the lagoon, while they turned normality into a nightmare.”

“Southern people who like noise would say that something north of the Tropic of Capricorn like Desperance, was just a quiet little town, but if you listened hard enough, you would have heard the silence screaming to be heard.”

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