I’d never actually heard about Thredbo until recently. When I read Bad Ground. It might be a big moment of Australian history, but it’s not one that’s memorable from my recollection of local history. So when I did a little research, I was completely intrigued. And boy am I glad that I actually decided to buy this book.
The start of this book very much reads like a love letter to Sally. It wasn’t until around the 8th chapter when Stuart starts actually talking about the landside that I was able to concentrate and read this in a big hit. Before that, my heart just kept breaking and I had to keep putting this down to wipe away a tear.
I love how this book talks about Stuart’s point of view and experiences. But balanced with this is the factual account of what Australia and the rest of the rescuers were also witnessing and experiencing. It was a pretty stark and brutal reality. One that I’m honestly surprised didn’t give me nightmares. I don’t like small spaces, reading a memoir about being trapped underground for 65 hours… literally one of my worst nightmare. All I’d need is snakes to make it the worst thing ever…
Although my edition of this was on my kobo, it’s one that I want to add to my physical library. I love reading about Australian history and I think its important to keep adding to my knowledge and collection.
There are moments in Australian history that are seared into my brain. And Black Saturday is one of them. I remember being in high school and hearing about all of the lives lost. We always did bushfire drills throughout primary school. And although the numbers didn’t quite mean as much to me then as now… I still felt… horror at all the destruction.
As such, it’s taken me years to read this book. It was published about a year after the Black Saturday fires and I’ve had it on my shelves since then. But I always knew that it would be a tough read and hit me a little harder. Particularly with the fires that we’ve had over the past few years.
One of the aspects I loved about this compilation was how each chapter covered a different area that was decimated. And at the beginning of each area, there is an overall summary of exactly what happened. How much was destroyed. How many lives lost. It gives a greater overview of the stories that then follow.
It’s always important to personify the tragedies of our past. Otherwise the number of people who died become just that… a list of numbers and names with no real meaning.
I’ve been hanging to read this for about 6 months now. But, considering my other half actually works in an underground mine that is very similar to Beaconsfield (albeit much bigger), I decided to wait until he had a huge chunk of time off… I didn’t really need to be imagining him in this position in the long week that he’s away…
There are always moments of local or global history that will stick in our minds. Todd and Brant walking out of the mine on national news is one of them for me (Steve Irwin dying is another one). Which made not only visiting Beaconsfield, but reading this incredibly surreal. I mean, I was in high school when this happened. And I remember it being plastered all over the news. But to my teenage self… it was so removed from reality. Not anymore and I’m incredibly glad I got a chance to read about this rescue and tragedy.
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this book so much. Mostly because I thought it would just be a recount of Todd and Brant’s experiences. Instead, it focused a lot more on everyone else who was impacted. Larry Knight’s family gets a lot of attention (as they should). The crew supervisor and the rescue team. The families who were topside waiting for news. It’s a great reminder that tragedy doesn’t just strike one person, but rather impacts everyone I our little vortexes of life.
Most of the time I read memoirs, biographies, and true stories because they’re easy to put down and walk away from. Perfect for when life is busy, and I don’t have heaps of time to read. That’s not the case with this. I was constantly itching to pick it back up and bury my nose between the pages. I don’t know if it’s because this is so much closer to home than most booms in this genre, or if it was just brilliantly done… but regardless, definitely at the top of my recommendations list.
Title: Pack of Thieves? 52 Port Arthur Lives Author: Hamish Maxwell-Stewart & Susan Hood Rating Out of 5: 3 (On the fence about this one) My Bookshelves:Australian history, Crime, Non-fiction Dates read: 15th – 30th August 2021 Pace: Slow Format: Non-fictional text Publisher: Port Arthur Historic Sites Year: 2001 5th sentence, 74th page: On the same day he was punished with a beating of one hundred strokes for breaking gaol while awaiting trial – he had been recaptured by the guard at Eaglehawk Neck.
George Arthur, Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land from 1824-36 is credited with constructing an intricate system of convict management. The idea behind Arthur’s grand plan was that convicts would sink or rise through the tiers of his multi-layered system according to their conduct. Thus, the intention was that the wicked would be punished for their sins and the good rewarded for unerring servile toil. In 1830 Arthur ordered the construction of a new penal station on the Tasman Peninsula named Port Arthur in his honour. This was to be the foundation stone of Arthur’s scheme for regulating the lives of his colonial charges – a place to which prisoners incurred the wrath of the convict administration could be sent as a lesson to all.
Arthur likened his convict system to a prison without walls. This was because the lives of ordinary prisoners were regulated by paper work rather than guard towers and iron bars. Every detail that could be gleaned about a convict was entered into a set of enormous registers which ere used to separate those considered worthy of indulgence from those whose conduct was thorught to merit further punishment. At times Arthur appeared to sit astride his system like a colonial puppet master pronouncing judgement on his charges.
This book charts the lives of 52 prisoners who served time at Port Arthur in the 1830’s. It looks at the impact of transportation upon their lives and charts the ways in which they negotiated a passage through Arthur’s labyrinthine penal colony.
After visiting Port Arthur, this was a fun and easy read. It was also seriously fascinating. If you read it in parts. I mean, most of the stories were someone stole something, they got sent to Port Arthur. And repeat. But then some of the daring just had me smiling… you can’t predict human nature after all.
All in all, this was an interesting journey into the world of Australian history. But, like most Australian history, it was a bit white-washed and turned softer. I remember visiting Port Arthur fifteen years ago, and the stories that you were told were a lot more honest and gritty. Not like the ones that are told now…