(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Capricornia opens with a brief chapter that describes the bloody arrival of the white man in “Capricornia,” Xavier Herbert’s fictionalized version of Australia’s Northern Territory. It serves to establish the themes of the whites’ rapacity and their destruction of aboriginal culture.

Thereafter, the first portion of the novel chronicles the fortunes of the Shillingsworth brothers, who arrive in Port Zodiac, Capricornia’s principal city, in 1904 and take up positions in the civil service. Oscar soon rises in Capricornian society, getting married and then becoming the owner of Red Ochre, a large cattle station. Mark, on the other hand, is dismissed for drunkenness and mean behavior. He fathers a son, Norman, by an aboriginal woman and leaves him for the natives to rear, only recognizing his worth when a grazier offers to rear him as a worker on his station. The child, called Nawnim, or “no-name,” by the aborigines, escapes and comes to live with Oscar at Red Ochre. After killing a Chinese merchant, Mark flees the country, and Oscar finally decides to rear Norman. Since he cannot do so in raceconscious Capricornia, where everyone knows Norman’s identity, he moves his family south.

In this first section, Xavier Herbert begins to show the panorama of life in Capricornia, a place of violence, dissipation, and greed. The plot develops episodically as the author comments on the effects of the coming of the white race in the...

(The entire section is 547 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Clancy, Laurie. Xavier Herbert, 1981.

Heseltine, Harry. Xavier Herbert, 1973.