Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth

Only Killers and Thieves

Paul Howarth

This is a book I can't get out of my mind, despite (or thanks to) the descriptions of cruelties. It made the history of violence against the Aboriginals in Australia suddenly very clear to me. It's a tale of friendship, hate, greed and despair. It exposes the raw emotions of young Tommy, especially, and the underlying tensions which emerge when his beloved brother chooses the opposite side. Written with an eye for detail. Great stuff.

Extract

Tommy and Billy came up the slope and into the clearing, and Tommy caught a breath of the odor, rank and unwell. Father and Joseph were standing about twenty yards away, weapons lowered, arms limp at their sides. Neither was moving. They both had their heads bowed. Father looked up and saw his sons and his face sagged in sudden grief. They moved closer. Neither boy looking at him now. Their eyes were on the large red gum behind him, alone in the clearing, like a sentry in the scrub.
From its branches, ropes creaking, two bodies hung. Both had been mutilated, both had been burned. Two knotty, dark medallions, dangling. Carrion birds hunched in the branches above their heads and flies crawled over their charred skin. Gently they swung in the wind. Ticking back and forth, back and forth again. Beside them on the trunk a word had been carved: NOONE read the engraving, in letters a foot tall.

Parallels
  • The Son by Philip Meyer
  • Strange Fruit - song by Billie Holiday
  • Murder Ballads - album by Nick Cave