Unease and disease

Redrawing the boundaries of colonial madness

Featured in

  • Published 20210504
  • ISBN: 978-1-922212-59-7
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

OVER THE COURSE of eight years I researched and wrote a book, Bedlam at Botany Bay, about colonial madness in Australia. I read the records generated by the projects undertaken here – endeavours at every scale, from simple survival through to the efforts of empires to mobilise labour, capital and morality. Letters scratched out by the two outsized, Crown-appointed spiders working from the stone house on the rise above the eastern shore of Warrane (Sydney Harbour) and transmitted to the buildings thrown up around the edge of the water; the second settlement at Parramatta; the out­stations in contested areas; the penal stations on far-flung islands; and the lair of the hulking old beast half a world away on Downing Street. I read case notes scribbled by half-trained doctors, case law by half-trained lawyers, editorials and newsprint written in the same inflated, pompous register in which it seems that many of the better-heeled colonists prosecuted their lives. The spiders spun without cease a taut, geometric thing strung over the uneven, ungainly contours of the colony, over the actual life of the world I was working to reconstruct. Somewhere within this close web, and the stray silken threads spun silent across the water by every person with access to ink and paper and language, somewhere within and inside all this lovely, suffocating gossamer lay the monstrous and mundane matter of colonisation: a thing so ordinary anyone could do it and so special some felt called to it and so awful that it continues to poison the land and everything on it.


Already a subscriber? Sign in here

If you are an educator or student wishing to access content for study purposes please contact us at griffithreview@griffith.edu.au

Share article

About the author

James Dunk

James Dunk is a historian and writer living on unceded Wangal land in Sydney. His book Bedlam at Botany Bay won the Australian History...

More from this edition

Love and fear

Reportage MARCH 2020. IN a darkened room in a Melbourne hospital, a slight, dark-haired woman sits at the bedside of a lone patient. Outside, COVID-19...

New vibrations

IntroductionClick here to listen to Editor Ashley Hay read her introduction ‘New vibrations’. IN THE FIRST months of 2020, the vibrations of the Earth changed. As monitored by a...

Delusions of sanity

EssayACCORDING TO THE Parable of the Poisoned Well, there once lived a king who ruled over a great city. He was loved for his...

Stay up to date with the latest, news, articles and special offers from Griffith Review.