Book Review: Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman

Book Review: Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman


Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman is one of the Stella Prize shortlist for 2018 and a remarkable novel.

It is hard to classify and to explain because there is a risk of ruining the premise of the  novel, so forgive me if this review is a little light on the detail.

Through a less than typical lens Terra Nullius throws a spotlight on the history of Australia in a way that is often very uncomfortable to read, but this makes it all the more necessary.

The key to this novel is its ability to pull the reader in and to turn them on their heads. The conflict of Australia’s past frontier violence is drawn out and examined from all aspects, at the same time as situating the reader at the heart of the conflict from a myriad of different perspectives. Through its unusual positioning, the reader (regardless of their views or background) becomes one of the oppressed. Even though this is not history as it happened in Australia it is achingly familiar both as a reflection of our own past and our still fractured present.

The story is told from a number of characters and perspectives, but ties together as a whole that illuminates the many facets of the society that Coleman has created. The landscape of Australia is also evocatively imagined and a key component throughout the whole novel.

This is a novel that should be read by all Australians in the hope that its perspective might enable a discussion or at least an acknowledgement that there is still a long way to go.

Terra Nullius is available for loan from the library.

Ellen Coates: Collections Librarian.

Book Review: Speed Limit 20 Plus : The story of the narrow gauge railways of the Victorian Railways by Edward A. Downs

Book Review: Speed Limit 20 Plus : The story of the narrow gauge railways of the Victorian Railways by Edward A. Downs

One of the seminal works on the history of the Victorian Railways’ is Speed limit 20 written by noted railway enthusiast and historian Edward A. Downs.

First published in 1963 the book chronicles the rise and fall and rise again of the narrow gauge railway network in Victoria which cumulated in the rebirth of the famous ‘Puffing Billy’.

This 2017 edition has been updated to include information on the current Belgrave to Gembrook and Thompson River to Walhalla railway lines. Restored locomotives such as the ‘Climax’ geared steam locomotive and former Queensland Railways’ ‘DH’ class diesels regauged to 2’ 6” are documented as are several Mt Lyell Mining & Railway Co carriages that were beautifully refurbished.

Richly illustrated and detailed, this book should be required reading by anyone interested in the history of the Victorian  Railways and would be a worthy addition to your library

Review by Secretary/Librarian Steven Haby

Speed Limit 20 Plus is available in the library and you can view the catalogue entry at

Book Review: Their Brilliant Careers by Ryan O’Neill

Book Review: Their Brilliant Careers by Ryan O’Neill



Their Brilliant Careers is sixteen biographies of fictional Australian writers.

This fascinating, enigmatic book, shortlisted for the 2017 Miles Franklin, is quite hard to pin down. It is both excoriating and hilarious. In pretending to be non-fiction, and with some of the best jokes in the index, it manages to be both an insight into and a critique of Australian culture (literary and otherwise). This is a book of layers (I’m sure I didn’t catch them all) and they are beautifully interwoven, with each story about the fictional writers referring forward and back and inter-working real writers with their fictional contemporaries. The real world parallels also abound, and each offers subtle and not so subtle commentary of both current and past events and ideals.

Their Brilliant Careers is one of the most original books I’ve read and, while at times it can be a little too obtuse in its meaning, there are levels for everyone. In the end the book manages real pathos at the same time as being actually very funny. It is worth reading just to discover these immensely well realised fictional writers who have lives that will alternately, move, amuse and disgust. It isn’t what you think it’s going to be and I suspect that everyone who reads it will get something different out of it.

Review by Ellen Coates (Collections Librarian)

Their Brilliant Careers is available from the library. You can see the catalog entry at: