Philip McLaren’s Sweet Water – Stolen Land (first published UQP 1993, reissued Magabala Books 2001, 215p.) won the David Unaipon Award for Literature in 1993. Published in the wake of the Mabo decision (1992) and Native Title legislation (1993), this zero-detection thriller became a national bestseller as it depicted Australian frontier conflict in northern New South Wales in the mid-nineteenth century (1869) and so addressed the Indigenous fight for traditional country in the face of a cruel colonial invader. It describes the consequences of European invasion for McLaren’s mob, the Kamilaroi, by highlighting how brutal violence informed the process of Christianisation and civilisation. McLaren maps the facts of the notorious Myall Creek Massacre* onto his mob’s contact history to depict the genocidal ways in which white settlers created their Terra Nullius and illegally occupied the land. Thus, he cleverly uses the only Australian court case in which white settler violence was condemned and punished to support his view of contact history between colonisers and colonised in the Australian setting. McLaren shows the Christianising zeal of the German Lutheran pastor Karl Maresh to be utterly depraved in his wish to build a thriving centre of Christian civilisation: determined to have the local Aborigenes live on his mission, Karl murders local white settlers while throwing suspicion onto the Kamilaroi by wielding and leaving their weapons and ritual objects, which he has collected and now put to new use with warped ethnographic zeal. This leads to murderous white revenge raids which force the Kamilaroi to seek shelter on mission ground. Karl pays with his own death in ritual payback at the hands of Manduk, the Aboriginal warrior who becomes Karl’s wife Gudrun’s lover. Gudrun’s sense of independence allows McLaren to show that race and gender can team up against the powers of colonisation.
*In Myall Creek near Bingara in northern New South Wales, 30 unarmed Indigenous Australians were killed by ten white Europeans and one black African on 10 June 1838. The Australian government page on the Myall Creek Memorial site says that: “The massacre of approximately 30 Wirrayaraay people at Myall Creek, the subsequent court cases and the hanging of the seven settlers for their role in the massacre was a pivotal moment in the development of the relationship between settlers and Aboriginal people. The Myall Creek massacre is outstanding in the course of Australia’s cultural history as it is the [first and] last time the Colonial Administration intervened to ensure the laws of the colony were applied equally to Aboriginal people and settlers involved in frontier killings”. The site became a memorial site on 7 June 2008 (“Myall Creek Massacre and Memorial Site”. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. 25 Jun 2008. Retrieved on 30 March 2015 at National Heritage Places – Myall Creek Massacre and Memorial Site