To Australia — shouldering guilt

Thicker Than Water
by Cal Flyn
(William Collins, £16.99)

thickerthanwaterFew people heading for Australia from Britain travel lightly, but the journalist Cal Flynn has heavier baggage than most, including a sense of inherited guilt. In the 19th century, Angus McMillan, her great-great-great uncle, led his fellow Scots not only into frontier country but in massacres of Aboriginal people. How, she wants to know, could a Highlander who had witnessed the Clearances re-enact them on the other side of the world? At 27 — the age McMillan was when he sailed — she wants, too, to answer a restlessness, to get a true sense of herself and who she could be.

Her book is billed as a memoir, but it’s a skilful blend, too, of history and travel, conjuring vividly what McMillan would have seen and setting it against the Australia of today. Here and there (cottages “cling like limpets”; “Sydney is a mecca for travellers and immigrants”) the language could be fresher, but this is a moving and impressive debut.

An edited version of this review appeared on Telegraph Travel


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