Whistler’s Bones by Greg Barron
Author: Greg Barron, with original excerpts from the writings of Charlie Gaunt
310 Pages, Trade (large) Paperback.
The National Library of Australia Listing is here
About the book.
Want to know what it was really like on the Australian Frontier?
Whistler’s Bones is the story of a fifteen-year-old boy who rode away from his home in Bendigo in 1880, looking for a life of adventure. Within a few months he was droving with Nat Buchanan across the Gulf Track to the Territory. At just seventeen he joined the Durack family’s epic cattle drive from Cooper’s Creek to the Kimberley. A stockman for most of his youth, he also hunted for gold at Hall’s Creek, and for pearls on the coast north of Broome. He fought in the Boer War, and travelled the world when travelling was hard.
Based on a true story, this is an Australian yarn like no other. No holds barred. Adventure. Passion. Romance. And the truth of our violent frontier like you’ve never read it before.
Major publishers said that it was “too confronting to publish.” We disagree. We think it’s time that this story was told.
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Country Update Magazine:
“This is a work that takes the true diarised story of Charlie Gaunt, the Durack family and an epic droving trip of more than two years of unrelenting deprivation – from western Qld to the Kimberley, nearly 5000 ks, in the 1880’s – and upholsters it with fiction, recreating a genesis of Australia’s pastoral history.
“Confronting and uncomfortable, and raising more questions than it answers, it seems unbelievable to contemplate this was a real way of life when the west was the last frontier – yet it was. Chapters are preceded by true diary entries and notes that chill and fill the reader with dread yet instil empathy for the hero, the vanquished or the victim, forged to a ruthlessness none so young should ever know.”
Australian author Lily Malone:
“Whistler’s Bones is a fascinating story based on the life of drover Charlie Gaunt who was one of the trial-blazing horsemen and drovers of the 1880s driving cattle across Australia into the Northern Territory to establish the vast pastoral stations of central and northern Australia.
Boy, this is a wrenching tale. Through the eyes of Charlie, it is a no-holds barred view of ‘white man’ life and attitudes at the time. With more than 100 years of hindsight, the attitude of those drovers and cattle barons when it came to conquering the land as well as the native Australians – some of whom increasingly opposed them – but others who assisted them, makes for compelling and confronting reading.”
Australian author Don Douglas:
“Greg Barron’s Whistler’s Bones is a novel written by a craftsman, whose ability to draw the reader into the tale is undoubted. Even when the story horrifies you, you’ll want to keep reading. However, it is not a story for the faint hearted or the squeamish. It is a harsh tale told in the context of the day, about hard men and tragic events. It evokes a gamut of emotions in the reader; empathy, sympathy, hatred and, at times, lack of respect for the character, along with despair of the seemingly inevitable racial conflict faced by dispossessed and dispossessor alike.”
A sample of reader reviews:
“An absolute epic story. Loved reading every word and had a lot of trouble putting it down. A fabulous read.” M Watson
“Got it, reading it, great book. Can’t wait to get to the next chapter. Really enjoying it.” S Flanagan
“Just finished reading. Awesome book – they were tough back then.” G Davies
“Nearly finished it now and what a great, well researched story. Pretty close to a 10 out of 10 read.” S Lucas
“A great read just finished reading it, couldn’t put it down.” T Wotherspoon
“Great book and a great read.” C Hitchens
“Have bought the book and enjoying it. A good read especially having recently travelled a lot of the area they are droving through.” M Scully
“Loved the book.” G Harris
“Great read, just finished, couldn’t put it down … highly recommend.” P Hynd
“This is a FANTASTIC book. I thoroughly recommend it to everyone. Well done Greg.” M Finlay-Franken
“A great story, listened to the interview on Conversations on ABC radio months ago.” D Drinkall
“I really enjoyed this book on my Kindle.” D Walker
“Well worth reading. A fantastic story.” P Firth
“Just read this book … loved it!” M Balderson
“Reading the book now and it’s great.” D Pownall
“A great book tells it like it was no sugar coating.” L Dunne
“I have just finished reading this book, it is amazing, confronting, and also interesting.” G Baker
“I’ve finished it bloody good read.” P Towle
“Just finished reading, sensational story.” D Thomas
“What a fantastic read… a real eye opener of life in outback Australia during the late 1800’s.” T Dyer
“Just finished reading this. I would say probably one of the most engrossing books I’ve read… Could not put it down. Anyone with even a slight interest in the early cattlemen, history and the settling of Australia’s north west, will enjoy it. Good work Greg.” P McLeod
Read more reviews on Goodreads.com
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Review from Gordo’s Reviews
Whistler’s Bones is a sprawling frontier adventure that tells the story of an absolute nugget of Australian history, Charlie Gaunt. Gaunt’s adventures take him through a number of significant events in Australian and world history – a veritable Forrest Gump of his times. The book is a great read, and I think one of the author’s finest.
The story of Gaunt, a real-life historical figure, represents a largely untapped vein although many of the people wrapped around that vein, including the Duracks and Nat Buchanan, are better known. As a young teen, Charlie Gaunt leaves his family and life in 1880s Bendigo to find what sort of life he can make for himself armed with little more than some potential as a horseman. Thus begins the story that takes him across Australia, and across the world.
The strength of this novel for me, aside from the enthralling story telling, lay with the unfiltered retelling of Gaunt’s story. Although an interesting and intriguing character, he is abundantly flawed. Some of his actions are indefensible and deplorable. In Gaunt, Whistler’s Bones delivers a boy-to-man character we can at times admire, at times sympathise with and at times despise.
The author’s decision to focus primarily on Gaunt’s early manhood, and retell the rest of his story in brief, underpins the fondest memories and greatest regrets that would stay with Gaunt for life. In resisting the temptation to lionise Gaunt and turn him into a champion of causes and rights that exist now but didn’t then, Barron provides a near-as-possible to accurate rendering of the man and his times. And while I’m sure the author is uncomfortable with the terms used and attitudes towards aboriginal Australians at the time, they are present in the book in unvarnished detail because to modify them would be revisionism.
Having grown up in Goulburn and being educated at St Pat’s, the story of the Durack family and their epic cattle drive across to the Kimberleys was known to me, but I have to admit not in such detail or breadth. Whistler’s Bones is a worthy addition to Australian literature and is deserving of being included in Australian school curricula where Gaunt’s choices, the treatment of indigenous Australians and frontier life in Australian would provoke informative discussions and perhaps a desire to read more of this era and better understand it. This painstakingly researched book has certainly sent me in that direction.
I’ve read a number of Greg’s books, but enjoyed this the most. Barron is a fine author at the peak of his powers telling stories he is passionate about. Five stars.
Chris Gordon, Journalist and Commentator
Article link is here.