Book - 2007
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Centred on the precariously settled coastal town of Desperance, a township shaped by cyclones, monsoonal floods and a river that spurns human endeavour with its incomprehensible tides, it tells the story of the powerful Phantom family. Led by Norm Phantom, the great fish-embalming king of time, legendary storyteller, suspected murderer and leader of the Pricklebush people, the Phantoms battle to retain sovereignty over a country where "legends and ghosts live side by side". Sovereignty depends on stories. The official version of the region's history makes no mention of the Phantoms or the Great War of the Dump that burst the Pricklebush people apart and set Eastsider against Westsider. Nor does it mention the old tribal tensions that resurfaced and the search for lost ancestral stories that lay claim to traditional ownership.
Publisher: Artarmon, N.S.W., Giramondo Publishing Company,, 2007.
ISBN: 9781920882303
Characteristics: 519 pages ; 25 cm.
Additional Contributors: University of Western Sydney


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Oct 08, 2018

This is a wonderful book; a kind of Australian indigenous magical realism. Well written and a wonderful story that, although a bit complex at times, is well worth the effort.

Sep 19, 2009

In the far north of Australia, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, the tiny town of Desperance doesn't appear on any map. That's because the name was officially changed to Masterton - but any road signs are destroyed as soon as they are erected. The white townfolk are set in their beliefs and don't care for change of any kind. Racism is as much a way of life for them as swatting mosquitos and sweating in the oppressive heat.

Aboriginal folk live in two camps on either side of the town proper, where the white folk dwell. Desperance is the closest town to a giant mine newly built by a multinational corporation. The issues of land rights, environmental concerns and employment opportunities are central to the story. The Aboriginal families have been feuding for 400 years; Norm Phantom and Joseph Midnight are the elder patriarchs of either side.

Norm's son, Will Phantom, is one of the main opponents of the mine and does what he can to sabotage its construction. He has also fallen in love with Joseph's grand-daughter, Hope, which causes his father to disown him. Will has to abandon Hope and their young son when mine officials are hot on his trail, but his dream is always to reunite with them. Meanwhile, the mining company resorts to dastardly deeds of retaliation.

Aboriginal author Wright was awarded the Miles Franklin Literary Award for this lyrical and sweeping saga. I found it a bit difficult to get into because the narrative is so very nonlinear, but by the time I was 100 pages in, I couldn't put it down.

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