My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Source: Uncorrected Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin via The Reading Room
A moving tale of Ben Hall where we are given a glimpse of the man, or who the man could’ve been, behind the bushranger mask. Whilst a number of his adventures as bushranger is included in this story, there are endless possibilities of the thoughts and feelings that would’ve driven Ben Hall to do the things he did and I think Trevor Shearston has done marvellously in balancing that sympathy with a man who is ‘driven’ to bushranging and yet, not condoning them in any way. The book felt very realistic – life was hard, in fact, it was harsh for these Aussie pioneers and one would have to adjust as one chose to.
The book opens with a scene of Ben Hall, Jack Gilbert, and John Dunn bailing a coach. It was actually quite exciting beginning except that I was struggling quite badly with a cold (found it hard to concentrate), the historical terms / lingo (it took me some time to understood that ‘trap’ referred to policeman), and confusion over who’s saying what. This last bit happened quite a few times as a three-way conversation (or more) was told mostly in what was said and not necessarily who said them which can get quite confusing a lot of the time.
My background contributed to my struggle with Aussie terms and sayings. I immigrated to Australia when I was 15 so whilst I got to know most modern Aussie lingos, the gap in my knowledge over Australian history (including linguistics) is quite wide. For example, I had to actually search over the internet as to whether any of these characters were real. To my shame, they were (thanks, Google & Wikipedia!) and it sounded like the story of Ben Hall was quite faithful to historical events. I found it very interesting that Ben Hall was described as, “Unlike many bushrangers of the era, he was not responsible for any deaths” [Wikipedia]. There were also things they did, which were well described but since I had no idea what it was, I still got confused. For example, pit-sawing. Again, thanks to the internet, I found pictures to my great delight for now I understood what Ben was experiencing and reason behind his restrain.
Ben likes to thinks that circumstances forced him into bushranging and truly, conditions were so harsh and injustice so rife, that many bushrangers were on this path as they truly believe there is no other alternative. Many people (the poor, in any case) understood bushrangers to have had a rotten past and would be helpful in sheltering them and sharing provisions. The bushrangers themselves would try to repay as best they could. Nevertheless, were whatever it is that made them chose this life reasonable?
[Ann] “…He chose to give up Sandy Creek. No one force him, not even Biddy, though I’m sure he likes to tell himself it was her fault – which goes to what I was saying about blaming everyone but himself. He’s not the first man to be left by his wife. If they all used that as a reason to take to bushranging there wouldn’t be a road safe to travel.”
There really no other way to end this but one way. You could probably tell which way that is. As I said, this book appears to be pretty faithful to historical events. A truly poignant tale of a wretched man struggling to find his way. This is more than just a tale of a legendary bushranger. This is a story of the man who has strayed off the straight path and was looking for a way back.
If you’d enjoyed True History of Kelly Gang, you would definitely love this book. In a way, though I struggle with the language here, it was actually worse with Kelly. If you are not Australian, you would find it a bit hard to read but if you are interested in the history of Australian pioneers and bushrangers, you’ll find this hard to put down.
Thank you, Allen & Unwin via The Reading Room for copy of uncorrected proof of this book in exchange of honest review