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Australian culture with Thomas Keneally, Kate Grenville and Deborah Cheetham

45 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 07 November 2011

Andrew Marr discusses Australia's cultural heritage with the prize-winning authors Thomas Keneally and Kate Grenville, and the opera singer and composer Deborah Cheetham. Keneally has embarked on a history of Australia through its people: from convicts and Aborigines, settlers and bushrangers, patriots and reformers, and he builds up a picture of the country's unique national character. For her latest trilogy Kate Grenville delves back into Australia's history and the first three generations of white settlement, to explore the complex relationship contemporary Australians have with the past. Deborah Cheetham is one of the country's "Stolen Generation", taken from her Aboriginal family when she was months old and fostered in a white community. She discusses how she has mined her lost heritage for her latest composition.
Produced by Katy Hickman.


    One of Australia's greatest historians, Manning Clark, began his famous history of the country with the observation that "so far there have been two cultures in Australia - one Aboriginal and the other European". The writer Thomas Keneally is exploring both cultures in order to shed light on what it means to be Australian. His history, Australians, tells the story of the country through its inhabitants. In the first volume, Origins to Eureka, he looks at the lives of the convicts, Aborigines, settlers and soldiers, while Eureka to the Diggers takes the reader from the 1860s to the rifts wrought by World War I, where bushrangers, Aboriginal resistance fighters and immigrants all populated a land on the cusp of nationhood.

    Australians: Eureka to the Diggers (Volume 2) will be published in Australia this month and the UK in May 2012 by Allen & Unwin.

    Australians: Eureka to the Diggers

    In her latest trilogy of novels Kate Grenville takes the reader back to when settlers first made their life in Australia in the early nineteenth century. Her prize-winning The Secret River was inspired by her own convict ancestor and explores how the petty thieves of London started afresh in New South Wales, and of the violence that erupted as they swept the Aboriginal people off the land they now called their own. In her final book, Sarah Thornhill, Grenville looks at the second generation of settlers and what they knew of the devastation: "Whether they knew it or not, they lived in its shadow". But Grenville says it's not the past that interests her so much as the present, and how modern Australia has been shaped by the actions of those who came before and how willing it has become to acknowledge the darkest periods of history.

    Sarah Thornhill was published in Australia in the summer and will be published in the UK in February 2012 by Canongate Books.

    Kate Grenville

    Last month the Melbourne Arts Centre staged what was billed as the first indigenous opera, Pecan Summer. It's the re-telling of an Aboriginal protest in the 1930s, but at its heart is the story of a woman who had been taken away from her parents to be adopted by a white family. It's a story the composer and opera singer Deborah Cheetham knows well, as she is one of the 'stolen generation'. She never knew her real family until she was an adult. She grew up singing hymns in church and studying opera, but in later life found that her uncle was a famous singer and Aboriginal role model, and her grandfather sang in vaudeville. "I live in between worlds", she says, "with the influence of two completely different cultures colouring my every thought and action."

    Deborah Cheetham


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