2021 - Winner
People of the River is an impressive reflection on the pivotal place river landscapes played in the early history of Australia. Karskens tells her story from a range of perspectives as she explores the ways that different groups of people make their own mark on a river and surrounding landscape. In doing so, the book does not shy away from telling the truth about the violent, unjustifiable invasion of the area. It looks deep into the history of the landscape to show what the land means to its Aboriginal owners, before describing the racist attempts to sever physical and psychological connections to that place.
The book offers a somewhat hopeful assurance that Aboriginal resistance succeeded in maintaining long-held connections to the area. Karskens asks readers to take a deeper look at a river landscape that many people cross in their travels with little thought about its historical significance. Her book says here is a place where people crossed physical, social and cultural divides.
People of the River stood out from the field for its depth of research and accessibility. Beautifully written, it is a work of rigorous scholarship that seamlessly integrates different historical perspectives and was a pleasure to read.