“The Lieutenant” — Fiction Based Upon Reality in New South Wales

This revelation is something which offers both simplicity yet it charms you in the way it entices you and forces you to imagine that when you put the book down, you’ll be thinking about the book even as you slowly enter your stupor, to finally sleep.

Cover representative of the context, also the gold letters shine at night.

Sorry, no “great works of literature” this time. But I can assure it’s a great novel that you are ought to read. Fiction is merged with reality to procure an exciting story based of real events, and it inevitable it leaves an intended effect — to make you emphatise and understand the plights, or to warn you. The author does it in their own way, their own styles. Given that I have recited this little prelude to you, let me present Kate Grenville’s “The Lieutenant”.

My discovery of this book is going to blunt, I just borrowed it from the library out of mere interest (do not accost me, asking why this is a VCE book, it has no relevance!). Like many other books that I have read before, authors love fitting small words and sentences that are italicised and are from a foreign language. Eventually the author assumes it to be part of your vocabulary and continues to use it sparingly with the italics, as a reminder. What’s important for me to ask you when you read the title is that you would you expect this book to be militaristic? To some extent it is. But the main reason the story consumes me deep is its mere relevance to historical events, and it doesn’t hide it from you. For once, you no longer grovel like a VCE English student to obtain the reason for why the book was inspired from. It’s written there ostensible.

We are set with a young boy Daniel Rooke trying to adapt in a society which nearly almost shuns him in Portsmouth, England. You guessed it, he’s one of them who’s father was a clerk so he actually gets bullied in an Academy. Although he’s not as rich as his classmates, he holds knowledge which is highly regarded. No one was simply interested in his capacity to contemplate the masteries of Euclid and Newton.

“Many great men had received their educations at the Academy, but no one there was excited by the numbers he called primes. Nor were they interested when he showed them the notebook where he was working out the square root of two, or how you could play with pi and arrive at surprising results.”

It was this treatment from everyone around him (even his parents — they simply showed a confused disposition) soon transformed him into an individual who was quiet, and listen and observed. As expected his interests grow further into Astronomy and he meets Dr. Vickery and excels with books. Let’s skip forward to him being in Australia, at first believing the natives as outcasts as people who so different from him in the most obvious ways “…naked, bare and exposed”. Who would have thought that although he went to transcription, he could astronomy close to him, as he measured the wind, with gyroscopes, sextants and other strange devices.

Here he is opened to the meeting of the natives or called “savages” by the men in Grenville’s account. His initial isolation is met by wonderful desire to learn the language, to be accustomed to immerse in their tradition, but deep down he knew that the “…paradise would not last long”. What is the paradise — it is his encounters with Tagaran that makes him different, actually care that they are treated kindly, not approached with hatchets and bags made into specific sizes so their heads would fit in them. There is always loyalty, and Rooke keeps enduring. Up until the point where he is tasked to capture six natives, and if it does not work by force either, then they are to be killed. He accompanies them, but returns by himself … back to the settlement in his adventures in New South Wales.

It climaxes when I was reading and wondering, will he be hanged for disobeying the king and disobeying the law. It was mere misery. He’s on his deathbed, but he has some special words to say about Tagaran. I’ll leave that for you to enjoy.

This book taught me to appreciate the wonders of Aboriginal society, and how it is capable to have a special communion with two societies.

P.S I’m actually happy that Grenville mentioned her inspirations for this book, how the story was modeled of a real Lieutenant at the time — William Dawes. You can do some research if want.

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Lowell Bassi

Lowell Bassi

My stories aspire to change the way we perceive literature, from a scary forest into something that we can all appreciate through humour and insight.