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y separately published work icon The White Earth single work   novel  
Issue Details: First known date: 2004... 2004 The White Earth
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AbstractHistoryArchive Description

'His father dead by fire and his mother plagued by demons of her own, William is cast upon the charity of his unknown uncle - an embittered old man encamped in the ruins of a once great station homestead, Kuran House. It's a baffling and sinister new world for the boy, a place of decay and secret histories. His uncle is obsessed by a long life of decline and by a dark quest for revival, his mother is desperate for a wealth and security she has never known, and all their hopes it seems come to rest upon William's young shoulders. But as the past and present of Kuran Station unravel and merge together, the price of that inheritance may prove to be the downfall of them all. The White Earth is a haunting, disturbing and cautionary tale.' (publisher's website)




y separately published work icon White Earth Andrew McGahan , Shaun Charles , 2009 Fortitude Valley : Playlab , 2012 Z1559461 2009 single work drama

'When eight-year-old William witnesses his father burn to death in a freak farming accident, William and his sickly mother are cast upon the charity of a mysterious uncle, John McIvor. Encamped alone in the ruins of the once great station homestead, Kuran House, the aging McIvor is desperate for an heir and sets his sights upon the boy.

'Set against the background of the Native Title debate, this sweeping saga switches between William's present and McIvor's troubled past. Before these storylines collide in a dramatic climax, we are introduced to devious housekeepers, family secrets and a mythical Australian landscape of ghosts and monsters.'

Source : (Sighted 10/02/2009).

Reading Australia

Reading Australia

This work has Reading Australia teaching resources.

Unit Suitable For

AC: Year 11 (Literature Unit 1)


family, family relationships, History, national identity, national spirit

General Capabilities

Critical and creative thinking, Information and communication technology


  • Dedication: For my parents, whose life this isn't.
  • Author's note: This is a work of fiction. While the Darling Downs are real enough, the northern parts of the region do not exist as described here. This story is not meant to portray any actual place, person or event.
  • This book was awarded the University of Canberra Book of the Year in 2017.

Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

    • Crows Nest, North Sydney - Lane Cove area, Sydney Northern Suburbs, Sydney, New South Wales,: Allen and Unwin , 2004 .
      Extent: 376p.
      Description: illus., map.
      ISBN: 1741141478
    • Crows Nest, North Sydney - Lane Cove area, Sydney Northern Suburbs, Sydney, New South Wales,: Allen and Unwin , 2005 .
      Extent: 376p.
      Description: illus., map.
      ISBN: 1741146127
    • New York (City), New York (State),
      United States of America (USA),
      Soho Press ,
      2006 .
      ISBN: 1569474176
    • Crows Nest, North Sydney - Lane Cove area, Sydney Northern Suburbs, Sydney, New South Wales,: Allen and Unwin , 2010 .
      Extent: 1v.p.
      Edition info: Special edition published to commemorate Allen and Unwin's 20th birthday celebrations.
      • Publication date: November 2010.
      ISBN: 9781742373713

Other Formats

  • Also sound recording.

Works about this Work

Family Historiography in The White Earth Ashley Barnwell , Joseph Cummins , 2017 single work criticism
— Appears in: Journal of Australian Studies , May vol. 41 no. 2 2017; (p. 156-170)
'In recent years, family history research has become a popular activity for many Australians. This imperative to connect with our ancestors extends into the field of literary production. In this essay, we examine one prominent novel that reflects this movement, Andrew McGahan’s The White Earth (2004). Looking through a lens of family history and historiography, the novel asks questions about postcolonial belonging, inheritance, and the violent foundations of the nation. McGahan’s young protagonist, William, stands to inherit a vast but crumbling property on the Darling Downs in Queensland. As William discovers more about the land, he comes into contact with both his own white pastoralist ancestors, and the powerful Indigenous spirits who inhabit secret and sacred spaces in the landscape. We argue that William’s encounter with secret family histories produces the hysteria at the climax of the novel, when the repressed violence of the past returns to haunt the present. Confronted with hidden knowledge, William—and, by proxy, the reader—is called to reconsider inherited histories in light of contemporary historiographies. The move towards knowledge of the family’s origins is a realisation of the complexity of the white Australian relationship to the land and its first inhabitants.' (Publication abstract)
The Condition of Recognition : Gothic Intimations in Andrew McGahan's The White Earth Stephanie Green , 2016 single work criticism
— Appears in: Queensland Review , June vol. 23 no. 1 2016; (p. 84-94)

'This article discusses the evocation of the Gothic as a narrative interrogation of the intersections between place, identity and power in Andrew McGahan's The White Earth (2004). The novel deploys common techniques of Gothic literary fiction to create a sense of disassociation from the grip of a European colonial sensibility. It achieves this in various ways, including by representing its central architectural figure of colonial dominance, Kuran House, as an emblem of aristocratic pastoral decline, then by invoking intimations of an ancient supernatural presence which intercedes in the linear descent of colonial possession and, ultimately, by providing a rational explanation for the novel's events. The White Earth further demonstrates the inherently adaptive qualities of Gothic narrative technique as a means of confronting the limits to white belonging in post-colonial Australia by referencing a key historical moment, the 1992 Mabo judgment, which rejected the concept of terra nullius and recognised native title under Australian common law. At once discursive and performative, the sustained way in which the work employs the tropic power of Gothic anxiety serves to reveal the uncertain terms in which its characters negotiate what it means to be Australian, more than 200 years after colonial invasion.' (Publication abstract)

'Terror Nullius' : Contemporary Australian Frontier Fictions in the Classroom Russell West-Pavlov , 2016 single work criticism
— Appears in: Teaching Australian and New Zealand Literature 2016; (p. 67-76)

‘A fire hydrant on a street corner in Carlton, in inner-city Melbourne, carries an ephemeral stencilled graffito : ‘terror nullius.’ The graffito is a pun on the legal doctrine of terra nullius, Latin for ‘nobody’s land,’ which dictated that any territory found by a colonizing power could be occupied and claimed if it was deemed not to be inhabited by prior occupants. Typically it was deployed by the British, for example, in a number of rulings in the mid- to late – nineteenth century, (Reynolds, 'Frontier History' 4) to legitimize their colonial conquests around the so-called New World, in particular in Australia. Its hegemony as a legal fiction was ended by the Australian High Court’s historic Mabo ruling of 1992, which deemed that so-called native title, that is, Indigenous possession of Australia, had existed before and after British occupation and the declaration of sovereignty in 1788 (Butt, Eagleson, and Lane).’ (Introduction)

y separately published work icon White Apology and Apologia : Australian Novels of Reconciliation Liliana Zavaglia , Amherst : Cambria Press , 2016 10291354 2016 multi chapter work criticism

'This book takes as its subject a body of recent fiction by white liberal writers produced in the wake of the profound cultural, political and legal transformations that have taken place in the field of Indigenous rights since the 1990s. Two milestones of this period are the High Court of Australia’s Mabo ruling on June 3, 1992, and the Rudd Labor Government’s national Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples on February 13, 2008. The novels explored in this study are Alex Miller’s Journey to the Stone Country (2002) and Landscape of Farewell (2007), Andrew McGahan’s The White Earth (2004), Kate Grenville’s The Secret River (2005) and Gail Jones’ Sorry (2007). Each of these novels was written in the period between 2002 and 2007. These were the years when the Indigenous rights and reconciliation movements had all but disappeared from the national political agenda through the interventions of the Howard Liberal Government. These works attempted to counter these silences as acts of literary activism, which strived to reignite the politically stalled processes of reconciliation. Through the medium of fiction, they kept Indigenous justice issues before the reading public, provoking discussion and stirring debate.

'White Apology and Apologia engages in close readings of the Mabo ruling, the national Apology and this body of fiction as a form of cultural history, which reflects important aspects of black/white relations in the past twenty-five years. Together, these legal, political and literary texts reveal a tension that arguably came to define this period. This tension fluctuates between a reconciliatory impulse of sorrow for Indigenous loss and the defensive desire to offer exits for white culture from the ongoing demands of a violent settlement history. Taking shape as twinned register of white longing, this conflicted cultural drive is the focus of this study.

'Each of these novels has had a significant reception and impact. All were shortlisted by the Miles Franklin Award with two taking out the coveted prize. While much critical attention has been given to their fictional explorations of reconciliation and the colonial past, this is the first study to focus on the novels as a collection of cultural artefacts from a brief but remarkable time in Australia’s recent history. In their attempts to explore Indigenous loss and dispossession, the novels can be seen as complex literary engagements with issues of the greatest moment in the contemporary public sphere. Together, they provide a significant snapshot of an ambivalent postcolonial culture in flux.

'Through an exploration of these important documents and texts of reconciliation, this study is able to offer symptomatic close readings of Australian liberal whiteness in the process of coming to terms with its troubling history. Providing new insights into how legal, historical, political, and literary discourses can influence each other in the quest for justice, White Apology and Apologia attempts to understand the relation between Australian literature and the culture that produced it. In the process it reveals the riven state of Australian postcolonial whiteness itself, which has been transformed by the legal, political and cultural shifts of the 1990s, yet which paradoxically resists its own deconstructions even as it longs for the dismantling of its own hegemony. The double movement of apology and apologia explored in this timely and important study is a startling reminder of the unresolved nature of the traumatized colonial legacy bequeathed to Australian settler culture by its history, and which continues to accompany white liberal discourse in its quest to heal its relations with the other.

'White Apology and Apologia is an important book for Australian literary and cultural studies collections.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

Place and Property in Post-Mabo Fiction by Dorothy Hewett, Alex Miller and Andrew McGahan Kieran Dolin , 2014 single work criticism
— Appears in: JASAL , vol. 14 no. 3 2014;
'Drawing on concepts developed in legal geography and critical histories of property law, this paper considers the connection between legal and affective relations to place in white Australian fiction in the wake of the Mabo decision. In what ways does land ownership, and the rights accorded by property, influence attitudes to and understandings of place? To what extent might the Anglo-Australian law of property be inflected by Indigenous understandings of land and law? Three novels published in the years following the Wik Peoples case are examined, Dorothy Hewett's Neap Tide, Alex Miller's Journey to the Stone Country and Andrew McGahan's The White Earth, due to their overt engagement with post-Mabo law and politics. Through a study of fictional techniques, especially representations of race, space and law, the paper explores whether these novels contribute to the formation of a new understanding of land and justice in contemporary Australia.' (Publication abstract)
New and Difficult Territory to Negotiate Rachel Cunneen , 2004 single work review
— Appears in: The Canberra Times , 1 May 2004; (p. 2a)

— Review of The White Earth Andrew McGahan , 2004 single work novel
At the Crux of Things Helen Elliott , 2004 single work review
— Appears in: The Weekend Australian , 1-2 May 2004; (p. 12-13)

— Review of The White Earth Andrew McGahan , 2004 single work novel
False Histories James Ley , 2004 single work review
— Appears in: The Sydney Morning Herald , 1-2 May 2004; (p. 10)

— Review of The White Earth Andrew McGahan , 2004 single work novel
Archetypal Landscape James Bradley , 2004 single work review
— Appears in: Australian Book Review , May no. 261 2004; (p. 41)

— Review of The White Earth Andrew McGahan , 2004 single work novel
Tilling a Land of Buried Secrets Aviva Tuffield , 2004 single work review
— Appears in: The Age , 15 May 2004; (p. 5)

— Review of The White Earth Andrew McGahan , 2004 single work novel
Moving on to the Land Michelle Griffin , 2004 single work column
— Appears in: The Age , 1 May 2004; (p. 3)
Combing the Land Helen Elliott , 2004 single work biography
— Appears in: Limelight , April 2004; (p. 40-41)
The Courier-Mail Book of the Year Rosemary Sorensen , 2004 single work column
— Appears in: The Courier-Mail , 11 September 2004; (p. 10)
Down to Earth Book Wins Award Rosemary Sorensen , 2004 single work column
— Appears in: The Courier-Mail , 2 October 2004; (p. 6)
Reading Groups and Creative Writing Courses : The Year's Work in Fiction Susan Lever , 2004 single work review
— Appears in: Westerly , November vol. 49 no. 2004; (p. 164-175)
Last amended 20 Nov 2017 11:35:57