Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Copy courtesy of the publisher
The Burial is the debut novel from the young Australian writer, Courtney Collins. Shortlisted for the 2009 Australian/Vogel Literary Award, it tells the story of Jessie – a notorious bushranger based on the life of Elizabeth Jessie Hickman, “The Lady Bushranger” working in the Wollemi National Park.
It is Australia in the early 1920’s and, after spending two years in prison for horse rustling, Jessie is apprenticed to work for Fitzgerald ‘Fitz’ Henry. Forced to marry Fitz, she dreams of one day escaping his clutches. Eventually, on one terrible night the opportunity arises and she leaves Fitz for good. In order to survive though, Jessie must bury all the evidence belonging to her past.
While on the run, Jessie joins forces with a band of rustlers and together they perform an elaborate heist, stealing one hundred head of cattle. Soon though, Jessie learns of the price on her head and is forced to sacrifice everything in order to save her friends.
Throughout the novel the theme of burying one’s past is a strong one. Both Jessie and Jack Brown, Jessie’s aboriginal lover, try to bury things in a physical sense; however Jessie is also trying to bury her past as a way of disconnecting herself from it. She tries to bury the difficult life she shared with her mother by joining the “Mingling Bros Circus”, and she tries to bury the horror of her life with Fitz by more radical means. Eventually though, Jessie comes to learn that you can’t always bury the past and that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the past will catch up with you.
In The Burial, Collins has captured a unique slice of Australian history. The writing style is unusual in that it is narrated, in part, by Jessie’s dead child. I thought this gave a haunting, nostalgic feel to the book. I loved the strength of Jessie’s character, which carried through the novel right to the very end.