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By Alexis Wright

Alexis Wright is certainly one of Australia's most interesting Aboriginal writers. Carpentaria is her moment novel, a hovering epic set within the Gulf nation of north-western Queensland, from the place her humans come. Carpentaria's portrait of existence within the precariously settled coastal city of Desperance centres at the strong Phantom kin, whose contributors are the leaders of the Pricklebush humans, and their battles with previous Joseph Midnight's tearaway Eastend mob at the one hand, and the white officers of Uptown and the neighbouring Gurfurrit mine at the different.

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Sample text

That strange­ ly different feeling caught us all together. We sat up in the darkness. Suddenly the weak sobbing of one of the young­ er boys shook the dark air. Tearfully, he told us of the catastrophe that had befallen our friend. We understood immediately. Groping in the dark, we gathered around the dead boy, now rapidly beginning to turn cold and stiff, who only at nightfall had still been our comrade. We elbowed aside each other’s warm bodies and touched the flesh which had lost its vital heat, then drew our arms back as if recoiling.

Instantly recovering our spirits, we raised a cheer and went running up to them. The cadets turned round at our cheers, but they stood stiffly and made no reply. They were armed with short daggers. With their hard faces, half-open mouths and well­ shaped heads held straight, they were as beautiful as carefully trained horses. We stopped about a metre away from them and stared at them longingly. No one spoke to them; they too were quiet, looking wan and anxious. These silent cadets, their tender profiles shining in the evening sun peeking through a bare copse on the gentle slope, these young soldiers, silent as if bewildered, exuded an intense, captivating strength like an odour from all over their bodies.

How poor was the meal that was given to us, that awaited us at the end of our long journey. Three basketfuls of scrawny potatoes and a handful of hard rock salt. We were disappointed and angry. But as there was nothing else we could do, we went on patiently eating. We were sitting surrounded by white wTalls and thick crossbeams on the damp tatami of the sanctuary, which was partitioned off from the narrow earth-floored entrance and the toilet by a wooden door. Just by sitting there, we made the interior stuffy.

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