Posted by: Marita Thomson | November 1, 2007

Journey to the Stone Country

dirtmusic.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpgby Alex Miller, Allen & Unwin, 2002journey-to-the-stone-country.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpg

journey-to-the-stone-country.jpgHaving been hooked by Alex Miller’s Prochownik’s Dream I was ready to leap into another of his books. Journey to the Stone Country sucked me in from page one as Annabelle walks in the door one evening to a silent house and a cold feeling in her bones that her husband is gone.

But what follows wasn’t what I expected. The story moves to Queensland where Annabelle visits her childhood suburban home and starts on a circuitous journey to the less certain country of her rural beginnings. She meets Bo Rennie, an Aboriginal man from the same rural area, and they travel together to the old home and the country of memory.

Miller weaves the Aboriginal and white stories together with the discovery journey-to-the-stone-country.jpgof abandoned homesteads and mysterious stone artefacts. Annabelle and Bo both find people and ideas from the past confronting their beliefs. As a result their blossoming relationship is challenged and the reader is also challenged to rethink stereotypes and accepted knowledge of black and white Australia.

I think Miller does a great job in representing his characters. Particularly the indigenous characters have a depth and rememberingbabylon.gifrememberingbabylon.gifvariety unusual in non-indigenous works. At the same time there is a mystery to some of these portrayals – Bo’s nephew Arner seems a silent menacing prescence, then patient and understanding – all with hardly a word spoken.

When the abandoned homestead of an aristocratic farming family is discovered Annabelle is transfixed by the detailed preservation of the life once lived there –  it is as if the family have just left. But when she investigates the well stocked library the books crumble at her touch.

Reading Journey to the Stone Country put me in mind of Tim Winton’s Dirt Music, and David Malouf’s Remembering Babylon. But it also reminded me that I haven’t read much Australian fiction written by indigenous writers. Kim Scott’s Benang and Terry Janke’s Butterfly Song are two that have been on my reading list for a while. Then there is this year’s Miles Franklin Award winner Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria.

For an interesting interview with the author which reveals how Miller came to write this book see these Reading Group Notes (PDF).

rememberingbabylon.gif dirtmusic.jpg benang.jpg butterfly-song.jpg carpentaria.jpg



  1. It was easy to read though I felt the text going in cycles, some groups of phrases kept appearing, like milestones.
    I thought Miller used his charcaters as a microcosm of modern Australia. Annabelle-whitefella caught up in the struggle for a sort of reconcilliation,hobbled by both sides.
    Bo-Iconic blackfella inspiring respect and awe in those who know or know of him.
    Trace-pretty and fearless enough to be accepted by whitefellas.
    Arner-silent, obese and gormless. No matter how Miller painted him, he gave me the shits, he did nothing. He represents the Murri youth today crippled by the grog and illness, obesity and american culture.
    Panya-the poor bastard blackfella at the end, pissed and useless with nothing to do but hate.

    Why did Miller have to include at least 2 references to EXPECTORATION on each page…A tracker wouldn’t have a difficult time running Bo down, he’d just have to follow the trail of gob hanging from ever damn thing. these constant detailed descriptions of Bo’s and others gobbing made me fairly queasy by the time I had reached the end but the scene where they visit old panya in her decrepit shack with her bucket of shit, encrusted with pus and spitting freely all over the place I was well queasy, well done Miller!

    The book ends in a desolate situation and while the reader feels negative from the vitriol of Panya, and fair enough, she had a legitimate bone to pick, the protagonists move to Verbena, to higher ground and lie together. An apt metaphor for their act of reconcilliation.
    As for the stone artifact, I’d like to have learnt a little more about it.

  2. Golly, Dave, I don’t remember all those spitting references!! But the Panya scene was very memorable/visceral.

    I also would like to know more about the stone artifact, but I think that was the point. I got the idea even the indigenous characters didn’t know, perhaps to their shame. Or perhaps they did and knew better than to talk about it. To me this represented the point at which the whitefella does not know (may never know) the blackfella.

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