Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth – Review
By Joe Forshaw
Only Killers and Thieves is a factional account of a period in Australia’s early settlement history that is informative, startling and reprehensible. It is a period about which records have been buried in dusty achieves for many years and a history that most Australians would like to forget, or would prefer to believe never happened. A period when colonisation and exploitation went hand-in-hand.
From 1788 to 1920 hundreds of thousands of Australian aborigines were massacred in an effort to push the them off their ancestral lands and to claim these lands for the settlers. The massacres where generally justified by the ‘white man’s’ law as a necessary process for the expansion of the colonies.
In 1833, 200 Gunditjamara people were shot over a dispute concerning a dead whale. In 1883, a Major Nunn killed 200-300 Kamilaroi people, thereby wiping out the tribe. In 1920, in what is known as the Coniston massacre, 60 men, women and children from the Waripire, Ammatyerre and Kaytetye people were shot.
“Suppressed, exploited and ignored”
It is understandable why such details have been kept under lock and key by successive Australian governments and why contemporary aborigines call the annual celebration of ‘Australia Day’, Invasion Day.
The Australian aborigines are still third class citizens in their own country. They have been suppressed, exploited and ignored by successive Australian governments. The famous stolen generation ‘Sorrow’ speech made by the then-Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008, whilst very laudable in itself, did little to better the lot of the aborigines.
It is not surprising therefore that this book, Only Killers and Thieves, has been written by an Englishman. Paul Howarth was born and grew up in the UK before moving to Melbourne in his late twenties. He graduated from the UEA Creative writing MA in 2015 and was awarded the Malcolm Bradbury Scholarship in 2015. He lived in Australia for six years before moving back to live in Norwich.
The book is a damning exposé of the facts relating to the ill-treatment of the indigenous people, the original inhabitants of Australia. The aborigines are amongst the earliest known inhabitants of the earth and probably moved on to the land that is now Australia when the continental plate was still attached to the great Asian land mass.
It is a credit to Paul Howarth that in the short time he was in Australia he was able to compile such a well-researched and in-depth account of the realities behind the slaughter of the aborigines and draw attention to real purpose of the infamous Native Police.
It is also a measure of his impressive ability as an author that he has been able to produce such a spellbinding story that holds the attention of the reader by the compelling flow of narrative throughout all the twists turns of what can only be described as a horrifying chain of events.
The book is akin to all good historic novels, that by way of captivating storytelling the author delivers a credible historical record in the factional genre format. A worthy and commendable achievement indeed.
‘Only Killers and Thieves’ by Paul Howarth is published by Pushkin Press, £16.99