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WellRead September Selection: The Visitors by Jane Harrison

WellRead September Selection: The Visitors by Jane Harrison

Dear Reader,

I am the publisher of the novel you hold in your hands and I am so incrdibly excited to share it with you.

Jane Harrison is descended from the Muruwari people. She is an award-winning playwright, author, and festival director. Her first play Stolen played across Australia and internationally for seven years. Rainbow’s End was produced in 2005, 2009, 2011 and 2019 and won the 2012 Drover Award. Her YA novel Becoming Kirrali Lewis won the 2014 Black & Write! Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and the Victorian Premier’s Awards. Jane directed the Blak & Bright First Nations Literary Festival in 2016, 2019 and 2022. She believes in the power of stories in strengthening cultural connection – and now she has written an extraordinarily powerful novel, one that – I guarantee you – will have everyone talking.

The Visitors tells the story of what happened that fateful day, January 26, 1788, when seven men stood on the shore, watching as the tall ships sail into Sydney Cove. Those seven senior Aboriginal men, Elders from the tribes around Sydney, have come together to discuss the arrival of these Visitors. All day, the men talk, argue, debate. Where are these Visitors from? What do they want? Might the Visitors just warra warra wai back to where they come from? Should they be welcomed?

Or – should they be made to leave? The decision of the men must be unanimous – and will have far-reaching implications for all. Throughout the day the weather is strange; with mammatus clouds, unbearable heat, and a pending thunderstorm – somewhere, trouble is brewing...

I have not been so excited by a work of fiction in a long time. The novel is phenomenally good – it is bold, earthy, funny, audacious, imaginative, a provocative and playful reimagining of history.

These seven men – their quarrels and arguments, jokes, jousting and secret worries – come vividly to life, as does the mysterious, breathing presence of the land around them. It’s Twelve Angry Men meets Lincoln in the Bardo, but with an authentic Australian humour, an authentic Australian voice.

This is a novel that is generous, big-hearted and funny, yet at the same time deadly serious and thought-provoking. This novel is as page-turning as a thriller – we read on, desperately wanting to find out what happens, even though, we know – of course we know – what happened afterwards. This is the emotional heart of the novel, which gives it its depth, its poignancy, its undeniable emotional power – the fact that, yes, we are all still grappling with what came next.

The Visitors is based on Jane’s play of the same name, which premiered at the Sydney Festival in 2020, selling out during an extended season. Sydney Festival Director Wesley Enoch said of the play: "Jane Harrison has written a play of our time" – and he will be directing another production of the play for Sydney Theatre Company at the Sydney Opera House this month. Film rights have already been optioned by the producer of the Stan Grant documentary, The Australian Dream, and the Victorian State Opera are mounting an opera of The Visitors in October this year also.

Clare Wright, Stella Prize-winning author, writes of The Visitors: "A work of soaring imagination and breathtaking ambition, Jane Harrison upends all our black-and-white assumptions about what happened on that fateful January day in 1788 when eleven tall ships sailed into a safe blue harbour that people already called home. Surprisingly funny, cheeky and tragic by turns, this remarkable novel takes ‘the other side of the frontier’ to a place few would dare tread. Bold, brave and unforgettable."

I think it’s a novel that every Australian should read. I hope you agree – and love it too.

Catherine Milne
Head of Fiction, HarperCollins

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