In the late 1800s, rather than run the risk of his under-achieving sons tarnishing his reputation at home, Charles Dickens sent two of them to Australia.
The tenth child of Charles Dickens, Edward Bulwer Lytton Dickens, known as Plorn, had consistently proved unable ‘to apply himself ’ to school or life. So aged sixteen, he is sent, as his brother Alfred was before him, to Australia.
Plorn arrived in Melbourne in late 1868 carrying a terrible secret. He has never read a word of his father’s work. After a very brief stopover he is sent out to become a gentleman stockman on a 2000 square mile station in remotest, semi-arid parts of NSW.
Here he inevitably gets enmeshed with Paakantji, colonists, colonial-born, ex-convicts, ex-soldiers, and very few women. Plorn did not expect he would encounter the same veneration of his father and familiarity with his work in Australia that was rampant in England.
Against this backdrop, and featuring cricket tournaments, horse-racing, bushrangers, sheep droving, shifty stock and station agents, frontier wars and first encounters with Australian women we follow Plorn, and sometimes his brother Alfred, through wonderful adventures as he works to apply himself.
Thomas Keneally was born in 1935 and his first novel was published in 1964. Since then he has written a considerable number of novels and non-fiction works. His novels include The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Schindler’s List, The People’s Train and The Daughters of Mars.
He has won the Miles Franklin Award, the Booker Prize, the Los Angeles Times Prize, the Mondello International Prize and has been made a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library, a Fellow of the American Academy, recipient of the University of California gold medal, and is now the subject of a 55 cent Australian stamp. He has held various academic posts in the United States, but lives in Sydney.
Image: The Dickens Boy – courtesy of Penguin Books Australia