Kate Grenville’s novel covers much the same ground – physically and mentally – as her award-winning The Secret River. It is a tale of white versus black in the early days of New South Wales, a time of “cruelties and crimes, miseries on every side”. Sarah Thornhill, named after her dead mother, grows up on the banks of the Hawkesbury, 50 miles from Sydney. Her stubborn father has done well enough as a boatman that no one mentions that he arrived in Australia wearing “the broad arrow”. Not mentioning things is a Thornhill speciality. Sarah’s determination to find out the truth about an absent brother is only part of a painful getting of wisdom which leads to convictions of her own. Her first “crime” is to fall in love with handsome Jack Langland, whose mother was an Aboriginal. Her snobbish, not to say wicked, stepmother puts a stop to their plans to marry. Sarah’s enduring grief is explored with great sensitivity. She eventually finds solace in the arms of a devoted sheep farmer from Ireland. The birth of a daughter soon follows. However, it is another girl whose life dominates Sarah’s. Years before, when her older brother Will drowned at sea, he left a child he had fathered with a Maori woman. Jack, Will’s best friend, was persuaded against his better judgment to bring the girl to live with the Thornhills. Her tragic fate precipitates a deeply moving conclusion to a romantic but by no means sentimental story. As Sarah cannot read or write Grenville has to perform an act of ventriloquy similar to that of Peter Carey in True History of the Kelly Gang. Unlike him, Grenville allows herself commas but she does avoid inverted ones to designate speech. Solecisms – “of” for “have” as in “could have” – riddle the narrative and yet, even with her limited vocabulary, her voice has an attractive personality and proves adept at describing the landscape and those who struggle to survive in its unforgiving beauty. Grenville’s aim is to give a voice to her forebears and show how they and their country fought for an identity. “They called us the Colony of New South Wales,” says Sarah. “I never liked that. We wasn’t new anything. We was ourselves.” Her wonderful account shows how hard it can be simply to be yourself.