Death of a Whaler
Set in Byron during the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s, Death of a Whaler is a vivid and beautiful novel of death, grief, rebirth and reawakening.
Flinch becomes a reclusive loner after he accidentally kills his best friend in a whaling accident. His path crosses with a girl called Karma, who slowly encourages him to embark on a journey to self-forgiveness and redemption through reconnecting with the world around him and the community he lives in.
A simple, powerful story about death, grief, rebirth and reawakening.
Byron Bay, 1962. On the second last day before the whaling station is closed down for good, Flinch, the young spotter, is involved in a terrible accident.
Over a decade later, Flinch has become a recluse, unable to move on from that fatal moment. The Bay, too, seems stalled in its bloody past, the land and the ocean on which it was founded now barren and unyielding.
It is only after crossing paths with Karma, a girl living in one of the hinterland’s first hippie communes, that Flinch gradually and reluctantly embarks upon a path towards healing, coming to terms with his past, present and future.
A very Australian tale of fate, forgiveness and redemption, Death of a Whaler is a big-hearted story about the unsteady progress we make towards healing and wholeness.
“She [Newton] has an exquisitely observant eye for those fragile tucks in behaviour that tell us more about ourselves than being in the full glare of the spotlight. This creates an emotional resonance and you care what happens to these people. … History is always best-learnt from unselfconsciously Australian tales such as [this].”
“Newton’s book is a fine piece of writing. The characters come to life through a gesture, a laconic exchange of dialogue, a captured recollection. And there are memorable passages about their relationship with place: how Flinch learns to read the ocean, how generations have been drawn to the bay, how an ancient history inhabits the landscape. Through the characters, a resolution between the town and its new-age influx is achieved. … Newton’s is a developing talent. … she has a refreshing breadth of vision. … It’s salutary to have novels presenting such honest views of such a mythologised place. … Newton’s, with its generosity and its resonant images of our coastal life, will be the one to endure.”
“In keeping with its torpid climate, baked geography and isolated characters, Death of a Whaler has a stillness in the telling, which, like the moment before a storm breaks, builds into an event which unleashes such power that it truly takes your breath away. Newton is an exceptional wordsmith, and in Flinch she has created an altogether memorable character.”
“It is not unusual for the articulate novelist to rally to the cause of the inarticulate, and Nerida Newton has produced a sensitive, sympathetic portrait of a severely disadvantaged and depressed young man, frozen in a moment of tragedy that he can neith let go nor allay. … a novel hearteningly different from Newton’s award-winning debut, The Lambing Flat, but one which shares that book’s best features: its assured underpinning of painstaking research, its clean, evocative prose and its shapely, satisfying architecture.”
The Advertiser, Adelaide
“…the novel is satisfying… It’s clear that Death of a Whaler has been researched thorougly, and the lyrical descriptions of the sea and the whales, are appealing. Extracts from Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick, have been fitted neatly into the story. Over all, Death of a Whaler is about humanity and healing.”
The Courier Mail
“…Newton is on to something here… Newton’s story is built on a solid foundation of cultural history … Newton writes in thoughtful prose.”
Sydney Morning Herald
The Lambing Flat
The Lambing Flat is a novel about belonging. A modern story set in an historical period, it follows the parallel journeys of two main characters: Lok, a young Chinese man who arrives with his father in Australia, in the 1860s, in search of gold; and Ella, a young woman growing up on a cattle property in central Queensland, in an alien, drought-ridden landscape.
Lok and his father travel the harsh country of south-west NSW in search of their fortune and are caught up in the infamous Lambing Flat riots, during which white diggers attacked the unsuspecting Chinese diggers, scalping some and driving many more thousands from the fields. Lok loses his father during this riot, and, untrusting of any other human contact, sets off in search of more diggings in an attempt to buy his way back to China, back to the only place he remembers belonging. He hears rumours of gem mines in central Queensland and makes his way north.
Ella has grown up on the cattle property and knows nothing else. In the desolate landscape, she is haunted by her mother’s conviction that she does not belong in the dryness of the bush, but by the sea, where her mother grew up.
Lok eventually comes across Ella’s property on his journeys, and through their subsequent relationship they each discover what it is to belong – to another person, if not to a homeland.
This is the first fiction novel that specifically explores the Lambing Flat riots from a Chinese perspective. It tells a story oft-repeated in the history of Australia – that of immigrants and the hardships that they suffer based on racial prejudice. It also explores the landscape of central Queensland when it was largely unknown, in places beautiful, brutal and untouched, and the efforts made by settlers to scrape a life out of the dust.
“Newton controls her narrative pace to perfection. Her story builds patiently and artfully towards its climax, and along the way unveils a side of the colonial experience that is unexpected and, up to now, unexplored.”
Judges’ comments, Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelists Awards 2004
“…Newton’s ability to mine the gap between aspiration and reality, the settled and the unsettled, makes [the characters'] fate utterly convincing.”
“…Newton’s limpid and invigorating prose brings something new… She is a disciplined craftswoman and a compassionate storyteller.”
Sydney Morning Herald
“An absolutely beautiful story that deserves its major literary award and short-listing for another.”
“Newton’s narrative flows effortlessly. Clever use of metaphor and the ubiquitous themes of displacement and belonging allow the reader to immerse themselves in the characters’ lives.”
“…Newton’s voice and style are strong… …there are powerful passages to admire… …she jump-cuts from Ella’s story to Lok’s odyssey with the aplomb of a veteran…”
The Canberra Times
“All the characters are comfortably at home in their setting; warm and human, yet vulnerable – particularly to the challenging countryside in which they are all trying to make something of themselves. Their lives, like the country, are rough and stark. It’s not hard to empathise with such difficult circumstances.”
“The author – with the use of poetic language, characters and story – has successfully portrayed the subject matter and surroundings. This novel has been extensively researched and will be appreciated by readers who enjoy thoroughness and detail.”
“Newton’s engaging novel … is a bittersweet tale of love and loss.”
“Nerida Newton has crafted a confident, haunting and wonderful novel. It stands out from the others on the shortlist because of its assured style, its powerful characterisation and its generous scope.
Whilst an historical novel it also deals most convincingly with the emotional lives of young people striving to make a worthwhile life, in the foreign place of the hostile inland of Australia, in the late nineteenth century.
It evokes a powerful sense of the timeless Australian landscape and the physical and emotional challenges laying in wait for those adventurers attempting to make new lives for themselves, amongst a culture both ancient and new.
With beautifully paced narrative, powerful storytelling and original, well drawn characters, this novel will be enjoyed by a wide cross section of readers and is a most worthy winner of the 2002 Queensland Premier’s Literary Award for Best Manuscript of an Emerging Queensland Author.”
Judges’ comments, Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards 2002