On A Barbarous Coast by Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick

barbarous coastTitle: On A Barbarous Coast
Author: Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick
Genre: Speculative Historical Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 2nd June 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Price: $29.99
Synopsis: On a Barbarous Coast is an alternative retelling of Captain James Cook’s story co-written by Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick in the tradition of imagined histories.
We were becoming the wild things we most feared, but could not see it at the time.

On a night of raging winds and rain, Captain Cook’s Endeavour lies splintered on a coral reef off the coast of far north Australia. A small disparate band of survivors, fracturing already, huddle on the shore of this strange land – their pitiful salvage scant protection from the dangers of the unknown creatures and natives that live here.

Watching these mysterious white beings, the Guugu Yimidhirr people cannot decide if they are ancestor spirits to be welcomed – or hostile spirits to be speared. One headstrong young boy, Garrgiil, determines to do more than watch and to be the one to find out what exactly they are.

Fierce, intriguing and thoughtful, On a Barbarous Coast is the story of a past and future that might have been.

‘Australia’s “origin” story brilliantly re-imagined, in which Indigenous Australians rightfully assume their central place.’ Susan Johnson, author of The Broken Book

~*~

We all know the story of Captain Cook and the Endeavour, and from there, the story of the First Fleet and colonisation. We know it mostly from the perspective of those who were in power and recorded their version of events at the time – the official record. What we don’t know is how the people whose names and voices often ignored or not heard saw these events and interacted with those in power and with each other. What would have happened to our historical record if these voices had been given a chance to share their stories? Alternatively, what if Captain Cook’s story had a different ending?

This is what Craig Cormick – a non-Indigenous author, and his co-author, Harold Ludwick – an Indigenous author (Guugu Yimidhirr and Kuku Yalanji descent) have posited in their book, On A Barbarous Coast. Using historical figures and records, and oral stories, the story takes a different tack – where the Endeavour is shipwrecked, Captain Cook injured and the survivors splinter into two groups – the armed marines, and the unarmed botanist – Joseph Banks, and several other crew members. Craig tells the white man’s story through the eyes of Magra, and the struggle to survive – the fear of the unknown, and the feeling of not knowing what to do or expect from anyone – except those in his group. He’s even scared of Judge and the other marines and hopes to try and communicate to the Indigenous people these fears.

Harold tells the Indigenous perspective through the eyes of a young boy named Garrgiil, who spies on these white strangers and reports back to his clan and family. They are just as cautious of interacting as the book moves along, and both groups are curious. Yet there are layers of what one group understands as right and wrong in their contexts. This is shown through alternating chapters. Each character is given a unique voice, and authentically shows their different understandings of the world – for Garrgiil, it’s the sacred land that the newcomers are sheltered on. For Magra and his fellow crewmates, they are just glad to be on dry land, and are not sure who they will encounter or where – or indeed how.

Much of the novel revolves around their observations of each other and quest to survive and maintain the way they live. For Magra and his group, it is the hope that someone will find them and be able to take them home. What happened in the years following 1770 and 1788 could have been very different if the newcomers and the Indigenous people had been able to work together and find a way to live together peacefully – which is what this novel posits. It is an interesting thing to consider – how different might Australia as we know it have been if everyone was given the chance to contribute to how the country was run and formed, and how developments and changes might have happened differently. What would have changed and how, isn’t expanded on in this novel beyond the integration of those from the Endeavour and Garrgiil’s people – that is left up to the imagination and what we know of history. This what if type novel explores themes of history and integration and looks at how things could have been very different if attempts at communication had been made and attempts to understand each other and the first people here were made. We cannot go back and change the past – we can only change how we interact and understand each other going forward, and part of doing this is to learn about the stories that are not often heard and that were often ignored or left out of the history books used for many years in education. What this book offers is a different way of looking at our history and understanding of how our nation was formed.

In collaborating and finding two very unique and distinct voices that both stood out as individual people but also melded together to create an engaging story, Cormick and Ludwick have looked at the stories and records from both sides – oral and written, to bring this speculative historical fiction to life that explores first contact, misunderstandings and differing world views that illustrate how each character sees the world and where they realise they might be wrong – or might just need to work together towards an understanding of each other, even though each will always be different in some ways.

This was a unique story, told in a unique and collaborative way that made me wonder if our historical record would be richer if we had always had that collaboration, and if we did, and it was hidden, whether it would have made a difference to how we understand and relate to the history of Australia as we know it.

Adding two more challenges…

 

Today whilst making sure I’d set up my challenge document properly, I came across two more challenges. The Dymocks Reading Challenge, and the STUF #AusLit Reading Challenges. Like my other challenges, both these challenges have categories flexible enough to work with what I read, and with the odd category I’ll need to work to find but I’ll work on that as I go. Sometimes, a book just falls across my path that fits perfectly.

So that’s six challenges but as each complement each other, I am not worried. My first three reads have already ticked off at least one category in five of the six challenges, and hopefully, with one in the sixth to follow soon.

My one challenge is the Dymocks Reading Challenge. To partake in this challenge, I must use the hashtag #DymocksReadingChallenge for my posts on this – easy enough to do, and try to check off at least one book for each of the following categories – one book a fortnight!

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Dymocks Reading Challenge

1. A book by an Australian author:
2. A book by an Indigenous author:
3. A book from our Top 101:
4. A book from our Kids’ Top 51:
5. A Dymocks ‘Book of the Month:
6. Re-read your favourite book of all time:
7. Ask a friend for a recommendation:
8. A book featuring your favourite country:
9. A book from your TBR pile:
10. An award-winning book:
11. A Mystery/Thriller:
12. A memoir:
13. A book outside your usual genre:
14. A book of short stories:
15. A self-help/motivation:
16. A fairytale/fable adaptation:
17. Book one in a fantasy series:
18. A book that teaches you something new:
19. A book with a red cover:
20. A book with a colour in the title:
21. A book you can read in a day:
22. A book about books:
23. A book that made you laugh:
24. A book published this year:
25. A book you said you’ve read but haven’t:

The second challenge I chose today was the STFU #AusLit Reading Challenge. Some of these categories require a bit of googling to make sure I find what I want by an Australian author, but that shouldn’t be too difficult to do. The provided links should make it easier, and I can reach out to my book and reading groups for advice if I get stuck. With any luck., review and quiz books will fit into some of my challenges as well as I go through the year. This is another I’ll be contributing to on Twitter and will hopefully be able to finish it as well as all my other ones. Some categories, I have to wait for shortlists or the books to be released, which takes a little pressure off finding them now.

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STFU Reading Society #AustLit Reading Challenge
1. Found on #BookstagramAustralia
* Scroll through #BookstagramAustralia on Instagram and find an Australian title recommended. [Make sure you check the book is by an Australian author, as this hashtag will no doubt find you some great Australian Bookstagrammers to follow, but they won’t read or recommend exclusively Australian books.]

2. An Australian classic

3. A book by an Indigenous Australian author

4. A book about climate change [cli-fi or non-fiction]
* Bonus: Read both a fiction [cli-fi] and non-fiction book on climate change
* You might want to check out the Climate Reality Book Club over on Insta for some ideas

5. A book by an LGBTQ+ Australian author

6. A #LoveOzYA book
* #LoveOzYA is a great resource to find an Australian YA read, or check the hashtag on Insta too!

7. A memoir by an Australian woman

8. A poetry collection
* Solo author or anthology

9. A 2020 Finalist for a State Premier’s Literary Prize
* Note: Not all states have a Premier’s Literary Prize / some are awarded biennially rather than yearly, so are not running in 2020.
* New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards – Shortlist announced March 2020 / Winners announced 27 April 2020
* The Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature – Shortlist out now / Winners announced 29 February 2020
* Victorian Premier’s Literary Award – Shortlist out now / Winners announced 30 January 2020
Bonus: Read a finalist [shortlisted book] from each of the State Premier’s prizes

10. A Book by a Territorian author – NT or ACT
Bonus: Read both an NT and ACT author

11. Read and watch a book to movie adaptation

12. A book from across the ditch – A book by a New Zealand author
Yep, psych! Kiwi authors need love too.