I am a big fan of historical fiction and recently was just introduced to the prodigious Australian author Judy Nunn. Judy has written over 15 novels and kids books, and this 2015 novel tells about the building of The Ghan. The Ghan Is a train line that crosses the continent of Australia, and the book is inspired by a trip that Nunn took on that train. She deals with the central part of this railway which was not built until the 21st century, despite having been laid out years previously.
The name of the railway line and the book is a tribute to the camel herders who brought their camels from Afghan to Australia in the 1800’s, and which animals were used to transport goods and materials used in the construction of the Telegraph services across the country. The railway line was then devised to basically follow the route of the Telegraph lines, sort of like here in the United States where in the western part of the country the Interstate highways follows the railroad track.
This is a book about culture, history, and the aboriginal belief that ancestors can you speak to you in your dreams, or can even invade your thoughts while you are awake. There are many interesting characters in this book, but the two main characters seem to be Jess, a young woman of aboriginal and Irish descent, as well as Matthew a surveyor who was there to work out the final route of the railway lines. Jess had been hired by the government to be an intermediary to the indigenous people because the government wanted to be very surely they were not disturbing any sacred sites during the building of this railway. And it is through this job that Jess meets Matthew. Trust me it’s not a love story.
Instead Nunn has given us a fantastic look at certain events that occurred in the 1880s and which resonate even today in the indigenous regions of Australia. Some of the characters which we meet in the early chapters will all be entwined later in the book as we get white settlers, aboriginal natives, Afghan camel herders, and others who will eventually help us discover the secret that the spirits of the past hold in this one small area and which will play havoc with the original path of the railroad. We get to see the prejudice, culture, and history of Australia all woven into this novel, and is a story that is entirely captivating. I found that the plot was believable, the characters are extremely well developed and interesting, and the fact that Nunn was able to keep any sort of romance between Jessica and Matthew out of this book was a big plus for me. Two mates trying to do what’s best. We get caught up in the lives of the characters as well as their interactions, and all the while we were also introduced to the history regarding the development of the rail line. In the end you have a much greater understanding as to how this railway was built and the spirits that helped guide the path of the railway. Just an excellent book, well written, fantastically researched and a book that I heartily recommend that you try and find. This book was not available in any of my Free Library services and so I had to buy it, and I’m very happy I did. Not only that I bought three other books by the same author and I cannot wait to begin those. Truly a five star effort and, what makes it even better, it teaches us about a small portion of the history of Australia and its people.