Many stories of convict life present romanticised tales of poor innocents wrongly accused of trivial crimes and sent on ships with billowing sails to ultimately lead a wonderful new life in the bountiful southern land.
In The Floating Brothel, Sian Rees presents a vividly different view. This is the previously untold story of life aboard the Lady Julian which sailed from England in 1789 bearing a cargo of convicts destined for Botany Bay.
This is an historical account, not a piece of fiction, so do not expect a light romance or tales of happily ever after, though this does not mean that The Floating Brothel is overly pessimistic or negative. Rees has carefully researched this history and provides a detailed exploration of life on board the Lady Julian, and of the history of those who came to sail on her. Details of life in and beyond the new colony for the key figures round off the book.
For those who enjoy historical fiction, the opening chapters of The Floating Brothel may prove to be a little hard-going. Rees details the social circumstances which led to the use of deportation as a means of relieving pressure on English prisons and, more broadly, English society, as well as the crimes and circumstances of the women who sailed on the Lady Julian. Perseverance with this opening will find the reader drawn in to the tale and to the individual stories of some of those on board, especially that of the ship’s steward, John Nicol, and 19 year old Sarah Whitelam.
Despite its title, The Floating Brothel is not a tale of moral depravity – Rees delves deep into the realities of the relationships and activities on board the ship. This is an absorbing read for anyone with an interest in this era of Australia’s history.
The Floating Brothel, by Sian Reees
Published by Hodder, 2001.
When a young woman and her baby go missing, gossip abounds in the small mining town where she lives. Twenty years later, the local lake yields human bones. The woman’s daughter, Ruth, returns to the town of her birth, ostensibly to see her dying Uncle Frank. He has carried secrets through those two decades which have rendered him a shadow of the man he once was.
The Water Underneath, by Kate Lyons, is a superb piece of literature. Its style, coupled with its water and journeying motifs, lend it satisfactory tones of Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing. The gripping mystery of the disappearance and the family’s history is seen through the eyes of three women of different generations who, while not close, share the common bond of their love for Frank, the man at the head of the family.
The Water Underneath, Lyons’ first novel, was a deserving runner-up in the 1999 The Australian/Vogel Literary Award. It paints a vivid picture of the town and countryside in which it is set – both the physical surrounds and the social backdrop to the tale – at the same time exploring some of the issues which have divided Australian society.
This is a story which will grip you with its mystery and its believability from start to finish.
The Water Underneath, by Kate Lyons
Published by Allen & Unwin, 2001
When Steven crosses the imaginary line between university and the real world, he decides he’d better get a job. He winds up as a postie, which he figures is just as good as anything else. When he’s not delivering mail, he drinks with his mates, goes to see his new friend Wayne presenting performance poetry and draws comic strips for his friend Gina’s zine. Together he and Gina go undercover to get rid of bad punctuation and to locate the guy who puts cool red stckers all over the city.
Complications enter Steven’s life in two forms – a doberman he calls Satan and a girl called Emma. Satan torments him as he tries to complete his mail deliveries, until he dies suddenly and mysteriously. Emma torments him other ways. She is Stevene’s first older woman and also the first girl he’s had to chase.
It also seems Emma’s getting in the way of Steven’s friendship with Gina. Will he have to choose between friendship and sex?
Man Bites Dog is a comic and quirky urban detective novel about life, love and responsibility. It seems especially likely to appeal to young twenty somethings living in Melbourne, who may well recognise themselves in some of the vast range of characters.
Man Bites Dog, by Adam Ford
Allen & Unwin, 2003