Peter Docker     Recommended by Annabel Smith    

One of the most underrated books of the last couple of years, review by WA author, Annabel Smith.

Peter Docker’s The Waterboys is both a historical novel and a speculative fiction, an adventure story and a contemporary myth or ‘dreaming’. The relationship between indigenous Australians and white settlers is made so new in Docker’s telling that the shock and horror of it hits you as if you are learning it for the first time.

Set simultaneously in the future and in a reimagined past, the novel tells the story of a young whitefulla named Conway, who has taken on the ways of the blackfullas. In a not too distant future in which whites control the nation’s water through a military-style corporation, Conway and his spiritual brother Mularabone are part of a movement waging guerrilla warfare on the whites, stealing the water and returning it to Country, where it belongs.

At the same time, Conway’s ‘dreaming’ takes him back through history, a member of Captain Fremantle’s crew, sailing into the Swan River for the first time. In a deeply moving retelling, Conway’s dreaming of these events sees Captain Fremantle throwing off the mantle of Empire and embracing the way of life of the Nyoongar people who meet him off the boat.

In both content and scope the novel is thrilling. The action sequences are fast-paced and exciting and are beautifully balanced by the poetry of Docker’s descriptions of the way of life of the Countrymen, and their profound connection to the land. There is terrible brutality in the story but there is also much humour and tenderness, especially in the relationship between Conway and Mularabone. The complex ties of family and kinship are explored both through this relationship and through Conway’s relationship with his biological brother, and the gradual revelation of the brutality of their shared history.

Though The Waterboys grapples with immense concepts – time, destiny, human nature, Docker never loses control of the material. It is an important novel but also a deeply satisfying read.

see more of Annabel’s reviews at http://annabelsmith.tumblr.com/ , and keep an eye out for new book Monkey Seedue soon.

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