Title: Fern Vale or The Queenslan Squatter – Abridged
Author: Colin Munro
Editor: Rod Fisher
Has anyone ever heard of Colin Munro, let alone ‘Fern Vale’? Yet this was the first Queensland novel, published in London in 1862. The author, of Scottish origin, was a young mercantile clerk who, after five years in Brisbane, returned to London to seek a wife and write a book. He returned to Brisbane in 1863 to become a storekeeper, merchant and Pacific trader. He later became a farmer and, while pursuing his agrarian dream in Queensland, this extraordinary man played out the purpose of his novel.
Though written as a pastoral romance on the Darling Downs, the book’s real aim was to attract migrants to the new colony during the optimistic 1860s. Taking its cue from the visionary Rev. Dr John D. Lang of Sydney, the novel, set in 1856-57, expounds the controversial issues of labour, industry and capital, as well as the tropical economy, land regulation, aboriginal policy, convict origin and separation from NSW.
I found the novel much more readable and interesting than expected…a terrific job of sustaining narrative interest and continuity while reducing it to a manageable length…yet retaining Munro’s remarkable descriptive style.
- Pat Buckridge, Professor of Literary Studies, Griffith University.