The Fatal Shore – Australia by the Book, our new history tour coming in 2024

Sydney’s World Heritage Hyde Park Barracks
© Mark Bowyer

We’re putting the finishing touches on our first long Australian tour, The Fatal Shore – Australia by the Book.

In 1988, I left Australia for the first time. It was the bicentenary of British colonisation. Sydney threw a huge party.

I flew out in June for Los Angeles aboard the now defunct Continental Airways. It was my first exciting taste of the world of international travel. The travel bug would consume the rest of my life.

About two weeks into my travels up the US West Coast, a slightly odd thing happened in Seattle, Washington. I wandered into a small local bookshop and spotted a copy of Robert Hughes’ book about Australia’s convict history, The Fatal Shore. Hughes’ profile as an art critic in the US meant his book about Australia, the country of his birth, was picking up global attention. It caught my attention too and I picked up a copy and ripped through it as I made my way from Seattle to Vancouver and beyond.

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St James Church Sydney
Sydney’s stories are amazing – and mostly go untold – St James Church © Mark Bowyer

Reading a book about Australia as I travelled along the storied US coast, just days into my first international travels, was a tad strange.

In the following years I’ve discovered that international travel is a good time to think about home. The learning of new places is in part an opportunity for self reflection. And that includes reflection about home. It’s a habit that started long ago and that continues.

In March 2o2o as international borders closed, I found myself stranded in Sydney. It would end up being my longest stint living in my hometown since the early 1990s.

When it became clear this might be a long stay, I decided to dig back into Australian history. I’d studied Australian history at Sydney University in the 1980s. From the 1990s, my focus shifted to Vietnam and Asia. Now I had an opportunity to get back into Australian stories.

The first book I pulled off the shelf was that copy of The Fatal Shore I’d picked up in Seattle 1988. Once I got started I was hooked all over again. Hughes is an amazing writer and storyteller. I’ve subsequently been made aware of academic critiques of his work. They have validity – but the book stands. It’s a superb read.

The Fatal Shore was an inspiration in 1988, as it was all over again in 2020. Since then I’ve been devouring Australian history. That reading and exploration around Australia during COVID border closure years, gave me the idea of creating our Sydney history walking tours. You can check them out here.

I’m now planning an exciting new Australian tour, The Fatal Shore – Australia by the Book.

Hughes’ book inspired my first visit to Tasmania in 2020. It was an incredible experience. I needed to finally see this place that was so central to our convict history and the history of Indigenous dispossession. 

Tasmania also happens to be one of the most beautiful and fascinating places in Australia. Hobart’s MONA museum is one of the most impressive art spaces in Australia.

Port Arthur, Tasmania
The prison for reoffending convicts – Port Arthur, Tasmania © Mark Bowyer

Since 2020 I’ve been tossing around an Australia tour to complement our Vietnam by the Book tour.

The Fatal Shore – Australia by the Book tour is almosy ready for launch.  It will be around two weeks in length and commence in Sydney, where colonisation began in 1788. We’ll then head west across the Blue Mountains and beyond. The books will be our guide, but we’ll enjoy the natural beauty and heritage of these places too. We’ll also eat well and pop by the odd vineyard and distillery before heading south to Tasmania for more.

In Tasmania we’ll visit Hobart, Bruny Island, Port Arthur, Strahan, Macquarie Harbour, Launceston and more.

The challenge we’re focused on now is finding the right books. We need three or four books to be the anchor for the tour. Of course we’ll read beyond them. The Fatal Shore is an excellent place to start. At the moment I’m thinking of adding one of Kate Grenville’s books, Don Watson’s The Passion of Private White and James Boyce’s Van Diemen’s Land or Cassandra Pybus’s Truganini are all in contention. David Marr has a new book on his Australian ancestry that sounds interesting. Alan Atkinson’s acclaimed new book about the Macarthurs might be the dive into characters we need too. 

Books are chosen for their evocativeness and their connection with history and place. This is not a “best books about Australia” contest. Nor do I include fiction in the core list. Let me know if you have any suggestions –  [email protected]

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