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.