February 15 , 2009


The Story of an Epoch


LANDTAKERS was published in 1934 as the first of a projected trilogy, was followed only by Inheritors (1936).

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  Derek Cabell, arriving in Australia in 1842 intending to make his fortune and return quickly to England, Cabell takes a job as an overseer on Murrumburra station, 40 miles from the penal settlement of Moreton Bay. The convict experience is important in Landtakers because its legacy of conflict and hatred characterises Cabell's experience of pioneering life and most of his personal relationships.

  At Murrumburra Cabell is bullied by the brutal lessee Bob McGovern, but during a flood manages to engineer his escape and that of the convict Joe Gurney. Together they overland a mob of cattle and sheep into the hinterland of Queensland where, threatened by Aborigines whom Cabell massacres and by a succession of natural and manmade hazards:  fire, flood, drought, loneliness and threats to his security by later settlers, he struggles over the next seventeen years to establish himself as a squatter. Recovering from a nightmarish journey in which he gets lost while taking his wool clip down to Brisbane, Cabell encounters Emma Surface, an ex-convict, whose degraded past he does not discover until after their marriage.

"Derek Cabell glared round at the ramshackle buildings of the
Moreton Bay Penal Settlement. His gesture of impatience, failing
even to startle the dog, which slept on with its nose to its tail,
or the drowsy horse he had tethered to his boot, only confirmed his
deep sense of personal futility.

Red earth and blue sky met in the jagged line of a near horizon.
In the middle of this vault stood the settlement – a prison within a
prison. Shanties built of black bark twisted by the fierce sun,
with crazy-shaped doors and glassless windows. Jail and barracks
of stone. A yellow stone windmill. A long, dusty, empty street.
Sheep, a few cows, pigs, wide patches of yellow Indian corn. At
one side of the valley a river shimmered in the sunlight; at each
end of the valley the bush. Into illimitable blue distance it
faded, across unexplored mountains and plains, grey, motionless and

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