'To the Islands concerns the ordeal of Stephen Heriot, an elderly, careworn, and disillusioned Anglican missionary who abandons his mission when he mistakenly believes he has accidentally killed one of his Aboriginal charges in a not entirely unprovoked confrontation. Heriot flees into the desert not to escape justice but to embrace its desolate beauty and its elemental purity as the one objective reality and the one certainty left available to him.
Heriot's flight and his embrace of the desert may be seen as his attempt, as a European Australian, to immerse himself in the landscape, to make himself one with the land. At this realistic level, the novel enacts the ontological and existential dilemma that confronts most — if not all — European Australians, the dilemma that Professor Hassall [in his introduction to the 2002 UQP Australian Authors version] defines as the continuing quest for psychic integration, for reconciliation with indigenous Australians, and with the land itself.'
Wells-Green, James. [Untitled Review.] JAS Review of Books 15 (May 2003)
Western fascination with the north Kimberley coastline has endured since seafarers encountered it in the 17th century, writes Nicholas Rothwell.
'The novels I shall concentrate on in discussing messiahs and millennia in Stow's work are To the Islands, Tourmaline, Visitants, and The Girl Green as Elderflower. Tourmaline and Visitants are the two which most clearly relate to millenarian themes. Tourmaline records the growth, and collapse, of a millenarian cult centred on the messianic or would-be messianic figure of the diviner Michael Random. Visitants is a structurally more complex exploration of three millenarian visions and their communal and personal repercussions, although the connotations of the title are not restricted to cargo or flying saucer cults.' (Publication abstract)
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