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HFC Editorial Review of "Darwin" by Dell Brand

Author Bio:

Dell Brand grew up in Sydney and taught in state high schools during her working life. Trained in PDHPE, she was recognised with the Minister’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Outstanding Achievement in Education Award for the development of alternate courses for senior students who wished to stay on at school and complete Years 11 and 12 but with little desire to pursue purely academic study.

She has three degrees in Education and her Ph.D. reflected her keen interest in working with children with challenging behaviours. For a number of years Dell worked with the South Coast Wilderness-Enhanced Program aimed at turning around young people’s lives. As a teacher in this program, she was able to involve herself in many of her recreational passions including abseiling, rock-climbing, wilderness trekking, canyoning and canoeing.

Dell loves the outdoors, especially the wilderness. In her younger years she was a keen swimmer and an A grade squash player. She now enjoys all outdoor pursuits and tries to play golf regularly. She has a loving family, with two grown-up children and five funtastic grandchildren.

Whilst still teaching, Dell completed a course in journalism and became a part-time freelance journalist, enjoying regular copy in a number of magazines and newspapers in Australia and abroad.

She has a particular interest in family history and history in general and this is reflected in the books she writes.

She wrote her first children’s book, History’s a Mystery, in 2010 in an effort to teach upper-primary-aged children about some of the great events in world history. It was highly recommended by the Children’s Book Council of Australia and was short-listed for the West Australian Young Reader Awards. Due to its success, three more books followed: History’s a Mystery Again, History’s Still a Mystery and History’s a Mystery Once More. Frequently using her own travel experiences to write first-hand about places she has seen, all four books remain very popular with 10-12-year-olds.

Dell then turned her attention to writing for adults. All seven books have been self-published. Five are historical fiction and the first two, A Voice to be Heard and Cry to the Wind, follow the lives of Joey and Maddy Gower, born in Bedford but forced to emigrate to Australia. They begin a new life in the early years of Melbourne and the family saga continues through the turbulent years of the Victorian gold rush. The third book in the trilogy, Journey into Darkness, continues the story of the family through Joey’s daughter, Kit.

The Weif, reverts to historical fiction and follows the lives of two young siblings from Ireland, each transported to Australia for their crime. Lizzie is sent to Van Diemens Land while her brother, Will, finds himself working for a stone mason in Sydney. As the years pass in their new land, their paths cross and each must find a way of earning the happiness they desire.

Stina is an historical memoir about a young Swedish girl, Christina Sandberg, who emigrates to Australia with her family in 1872. Having already lost her mother in childbirth, her beloved father dies of typhus soon after their arrival. She marries, moves to Sydney from Brisbane and has four children in quick succession. But life hands her a series of fateful blows and she must develop resilience and fortitude to survive.

In Botany Boys mates from the Sydney suburb of Botany go away to fight in the first world war. Far from the adventure they imagined, the five years bring challenge, fear and loss but also lighter moments and some unexpected romance. Based on true accounts, these Botany boys experience daily horrors but learn the true value of mateship and the cost involved in striving to preserve a way of life they believe cannot be compromised.

Dell has written one contemporary drama, Winfale Park, set in the Illawarra. It tells of a family living in a caravan park who, when confronted with the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness in a small grandchild, must put aside their differences and pull together to see them through. This is currently under consideration as a stage play with the Merrigong Theatre Company.

Her book A Brummy’s Backyard is a collation of short stories linked together into a humorous omnibus and recounts their adventures in Britain, Europe and beyond while on a teaching exchange to The Midlands in England.

Dell is an experienced guest speaker and is happy to talk to her audience for 50-60 minutes, answering questions at the end of her presentation. She prefers a digital projector so that she can complement her talk with a powerpoint slideshow. Signed copies of the books are available for sale after the presentation.

Book Buy Link: go to Dell's author page -

Editorial Review:

‘Darwin’ is a sprawling family saga set in the period of 1919 to 1974. As with all

family sagas there is a whole catalogue of personal and family triumphs, tragedies

and disasters for the reader to ponder upon. We move from the introduction of a young, inexperienced and naturally nervous English bride who comes to an alien country in 1919 to a massive natural disaster in the summer of 1974.

The cockpit for the bulk of the action is Darwin, the remote coastal capital of North

Australia, with equal attention paid to the Dalton family station called ‘Gracemere’ near the

settlement of Pine Creek. Grace is the nervous young war bride of Charles Dalton

who was wounded and recently demobbed after the end of World War I. Upon

arrival in Adelaide, the couple are promptly despatched by Charles’ imperious father to the station of ‘Gracemere’; in the Northern Territory to develop a cattle business. The family is

already prosperous from an extensive sheep farming property in South Australia.

This is the beginning of the family saga, seen and recounted through the eyes of the

major players involved. At all times the narrative is a first person account. Over the

prolonged time span new family members are introduced and become involved

including native people of the local Larrakia mob in Darwin. We learn of their

attitudes and beliefs through the eyes of Jenny, a young serving girl at ‘Gracemere’

and, subsequently, through her two children, Rosie and Billy. It is through them, and

through their perspective, we learn much about the brutality, casual racism and

bigotry that the native peoples experienced at the hands of white Australians and the

White Australia Policy.

Others introduced to the family group over the years include Eddie Wong, a Chinese,

whose family settled in the Chinese community of Darwin and the Dutch Indonesian-

born pilot Henrik Bakker and his sister, Adriana, who was a victim of the Japanese internment

camps in Java during World War II. These three, like Jenny and her children, come

to play prominent roles in the family history. It is they, these outsiders to the Dalton

family, who provide the reader with sharp insights into the Australian way of life and

the attitudes and behaviour of those times. Their sharp, often critical, statements of

what they experience and observe are one of the principal themes of this book. They elevate ‘Darwin’; above a mere family history packed with anecdotes and events.

It is not the role of this review to simply narrate the history of the Dalton family, an

account of what happened to whom, or when, for this is not the objective. This

review reveals this book as a packed narrative with instances of racial bigotry,

opinions and actions which far transcend mere “snobbishness”;. To cite one example,

Charles Dalton seeks some much needed advice on provisioning for a buffalo and

crocodile hunting expedition. He is told by an old hand: “the blacks set great store in

white man’s medicine. Don’t let them near the cough medicine” , and again, “Best let

them have it [alcohol] all in one go, for they won’t work until it’s all gone.”

After the birth of a daughter, Daisy, and a son, Jack, to Grace and Charles Dalton,

the couple slowly drift apart. Grace is increasingly unhappy with the isolation she

experiences on ‘Gracemere’ and elects to move back to the relative security of

Darwin, where she is befriended and begins to make her own life. Charles, for his

part, is more involved in his attempts to make a success of the difficult business of

cattle breeding and transporting and of buffalo and crocodile hunting for their skins.

This means he is often away for long periods of time.

With Grace beginning to make her own life in Darwin, he takes the young serving girl

Jenny as a mistress, and she bears him two children, Billy and Rosie. It is through

their eyes we learn more about the extent of prevailing attitudes. Daisy and Jack

remain unfriendly and disapproving, to say the least, of their half siblings throughout

the narrative. On the family station of ‘Gracemere’, Jack is harsh and bullying to Billy

while Daisy finds “the dusky smell of the natives repugnant.”; Far worse than this,

worse by far, is she speaks of her half-sister Rosie’s rape in these terms: “Her

friends say she’d been raped, but you never know with these half castes. Mostly they

ask for it in my opinion.”; the admirable and hard-working Eddie Wong, who is severely injured in the Japanese air raids on Darwin in February 1942 [where, on one particular occasion, there were over two hundred deaths and considerable devastation caused], and nursed by war-time nurse, Daisy, is often himself on the receiving end of this racial prejudice throughout the narrative.

The narrative proceeds through the War years and into peacetime. Henrik and his

sister Adriana play a greater role in the family fortunes, in all the triumphs and

disasters, as they become increasingly involved and linked. There are marriages and

break ups and reconciliations and the arrival of grandchildren for Charles Dalton. He

had been severely injured in a hunt for buffalo earlier and, as he ages, his sons take

on an increasing role in the family estate and the various ventures into hunting and


In Adelaide, his own parents are elderly and ailing and need care and

attention. Daisy helps as often as she is able, given the vast distances involved, as

her own mother, Grace, had done before her. Both Henrik and Jack experience

difficulties in their own romances.

It is hard, in truth, to find anything to like in Daisy and Jack, but they, like their father,

are very much people of their time and place. This basic fact needs to be borne in

mind at all times.

Daisy’s own marriage with Henrik ends in breakdown and her emotional life takes a

new and suddenly different direction. Jack’s own wooing of Adriana, seriously damaged

by her wartime experiences and hampered by his attitudes, also ends in failure and her

relationship with her long-time admirer and supporter in hard times, Eddie, takes on new

meaning and significance.

At all times throughout the book, the reader is reminded constantly of Dell Brand’s perceptive

and telling eye for social history as it evolves in this time and place and, always, a reminder –

especially for the non-Australian reader - of the sheer vastness of Australia, and the almost

inconceivable difficulties in travelling from one place to another across extremely rugged and

harsh terrain. We are not allowed at any moment to ignore this basic fact or the consequent

effects of this on the insularity and prejudices of many of the key characters.

Landscapes and locations are penned vividly, with great clarity and an artist’s eye as is the

growth of Darwin and the many changes that occurred during this time span. Events are brought within living memory by the events of the Australian summer of 1974 and

the devastation of Cyclone Tracy, which brought death to seventy-one people and great

destruction. After the event, over seventy per cent of Darwin’s population was evacuated.

This, too, was to have profound effects upon the Dalton family.

This is a story of human frailty and redemption, a struggle to right the many wrongs and sins

seen and condoned in a lifetime. Dell Brand is to be congratulated for her vivid narration of a

family, at once both ordinary and extraordinary.

‘Darwin’ by Dell Brand has earned a four star rating by The Historical Fiction Company.


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