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Introduction to Tom Hurstbourne or A Squatter's Life

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 February 2016

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My first reaction on reading Tom Hurstbourne or A Squatter's Life was surprise. When I first met them, the novel's editors, Gerard Benjamin and Gloria Grant had been very forthcoming about how they came by the manuscript – an intriguing saga in itself. However (and I hope they don't mind me saying this), I remember that they were deliberately a bit cagey about what the book was like as a work of fiction. What little they did say led me to expect something like a pioneering saga, with a straightforward life-narrative, probably beginning with the hero's childhood in the Old Country, then moving quickly to the Australian outback where the hero would undergo a series of challenges, hardships and adventures, suffering a bit along the way but emerging more or less triumphant at the end, sometimes with a wife, children and extensive landholdings. Quite a few Australian novels of this kind were published in the second half of the nineteenth century, and even more in the early decades of the twentieth – books like Miles Franklin's All That Swagger, Mary Durack's Kings in Grass Castles, Brian Penton's Landtakers, Roy Connolly's Southern Saga, Jeanie Gunn's We of the Never Never, and many others by lesser known authors.

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