The Fierce Country : True stories from Australia's unsettled heart, 1830 to today
Stephen Orr has compiled a series of short, true stories of our confrontation with the country’s arid centre and the conflicts between us it has borne witness to. Channelling the antipathy and fear which dominated the European settler reaction to Australia’s hostile geography from the beginning, he presents us with a harsh landscape beyond the edge of ready habitation and the characters who cross over into it. The stories he tells are of people both fleeing and pursuing, driven by need, wanderlust or the demons within them far from the comforts of temperate coastal settlement. Spanning almost two centuries, these are the true stories of tragedy and terror which underpin so much of our memorable fiction. From Patrick White’s Voss or Tree of Man and Randolph Stow’s Tourmaline, to Kenneth Cook’s Wake in Fright and, most recently, The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton, we are fascinated by stories of faith, folly and fury in a setting few of us inhabit and fewer still try to understand.
In this short, compelling book, the author presents us with stories we may have largely forgotten, may never have known but which have nevertheless both informed and mirrored how we view our country and ourselves. The ferocity he describes, emanating from a dead heart, continues to command our attention, to draw us even as it repels. If the heart is dead at its centre, perhaps we should look to our own as much as to our country’s. - MARK
The Fierce Country holds no malice, but neither pity. It just sits, and bakes, and waits. We do the rest. We provoke it when we mine above its aquifers. Weaken it, and ourselves, when we leave mountains of asbestos to blow away in the wind. Misunderstand it when we see it as nothing more than a resource. Resent it when it takes our children.
The Fierce Country, perhaps, is in our minds as much as anything.
The open spaces and isolated places outside Australia's cities have unsettled us from first European settlement to today - often with very good reason.
In this nail-biting book combining the notorious and little-known, acclaimed author Stephen Orr has collected true stories that have shaped and continue to haunt the Australian psyche: mysteries, disappearances, mistreatment and murder.
Fatal conflicts between an Aboriginal tracker and the police employers hunting his community. An itinerant conman picking up tips for the perfect murder from a famous novelist around a campfire on the Rabbit-Proof Fence. A schoolteacher and her students kidnapped en masse in 1970s rural Victoria. And that fateful day when Peter Falconio pulled over beside a desert highway.
Together these tales chart an undercurrent of shifting cultural tensions as Australians find, lose and question who we are.