Daily Archives: July 26, 2010

‘Bright Planet’ by Peter Mews

2005, 295 p.

I was browsing around my local library the other night and caught sight of “Bright Planet” and smiled.  I read it several years ago and loved it, and given that some of you may have been lured here by a search related to early Port Phillip, you might love it too.

I’m a difficult customer as far as historical fiction is concerned.  I feel smothered by too much research if  it means that the story is battling to escape, but on the other hand I am annoyed by small inaccuracies and a basic inauthenticity when twenty-first century ideas are put into nineteenth-century heads.  I first heard of this book during the brouhaha between Kate Grenville and Inga Clendinnen over Grenville’s book The Secret River, where it was held up as an example of a novelist using history well.

Bright Planet is the name of a ship- and it really is, too!  After reading this book, each time I came across Bright Planet in the shipping news column in Port Phillip newspapers, I’d have a little smile to myself.  It sails into Bareheep (one of the early names suggested for Melbourne, and strongly recognizable as Robyn Annear’s Bearbrass)  and the small town forms the backdrop for a succession of walk-on Port Phillip characters, Johnny Fawkner,  John Batman complete with his diseased nose and Mr Le Soeuf the Aboriginal protector.   There’s a slew of fictional characters as well, who could just be true, including Quiet Giles the botantist, who sails up what seems like the Yarra on a fictional expedition.  In best Voss-meets- Monty-Python tradition, there are a string of deaths through a whole range of misadventure, and it’s an irreverent romp through a young, bawdy town on the edge of the unknown.  It’s not true and it plays with the historical fiction genre.  It’s very carefully researched and, in its way is a critique of colonialism and imperial masculinity.  But don’t let that put you off: dammit-  it’s just downright good fun.

If I’ve piqued your interest, there’s a transcript of an interview with the author from the ABC’s Book Talk program.