Thicker than Water by Cal Flyn

3.5 out of 5 stars

It was a chance find in an exhibition in the Skye archive centre that Flyn was sheltering in from the rain. In there was an A3 map of a place called Gippsland, that was coved in fantastic place names such as Snake Island and Sealer’s Cove, but she couldn’t place it. On reading the label she found out that it was in Australia and it showed the explorations of a man called Angus McMillan.

A thought formed in her head to go there as soon as she could to get away from her current woes.
‘He’s a relative of ours’ said her mum.
‘What?’ she replied.

It turns out that Angus McMillan left the Scottish Highlands in 1837 and headed to Australia where he became an explorer and pioneer and had places and landmarks named after him along with a plethora of statues and monuments. Flyn felt a glow of pride about her great-great-great-uncle and decided that she wanted to head out there to find out more about him.

It was there that she would find out about the other side of him. McMillan and his peers were responsible for a series of assaults on the indigenous people. The places where these murders and slaughters took place had a chilling set of names; Skull Creek, Boney Point, Slaughterhouse Gully. To say she was shocked would be an understatement. She now had another raft of questions about her now dark family history that she wanted answers to…

Given the subject material, I must admit that this is not the most cheerful of reads, however, we as a society, need to face up to the past atrocities that were carried out by our relatives. I think that Flyn manages to face up to the revelations of her ancestor really well. She notes when he was an upstanding member of his community and acknowledges when the acts he carried out were utterly barbaric and unacceptable. Meeting with descendants of the survivors of these massacres is as cathartic for her as it is for them. She asks the question: can we be guilty of the actions of an ancestor several generations ago? From this book, I think that the answer is no. However, we have an individual and collective responsibility to apologise for those actions to ensure that they do not happen again.

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4 Comments

  1. Liz Dexter

    Oh, this does sound interesting, and a book on Australia’s history that we can get over here, which can be tricky. I see you’re reading The Sea is Not Made of Water and will eagerly anticipate then save that review as it’s on my and my best friend’s read-together list so we will come to it in, as they say, the Fullness of Time …

    • Paul

      It was interesting and I liked it as she was bold enough to face her ancestors past and meet with the survivors of the atrocities. I am and it is very good indeed.

  2. wadholloway

    As an Australian, I find many of my fellows hide behind “can we be guilty of the actions of an ancestor several generations ago?”. The answer is in two parts: firstly we, Australians, very rarely and certainly not officially, acknowledge that white settlement was carried out on the back of the murder of large parts of the Indigenous population; and secondly we never acknowledge that our present prosperity is based on the past and continuing rape of Aboriginal lands and the dispossession and enslavement of Aboriginal people.

    • Paul

      I don’t that you can be guilty of something that someone else did, but you can still be responsible for making things right. Still carrying on with similar practices is not making things right.

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