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Wanting

by Richard Franklin

Vintage; 2009; 256 pp.

This is a beautiful book replete with poetry and history, evocative imagery and haunting human sadness.  It is an amazing experience to be so moved by the machinations of people it is mostly very difficult to like.

Richard Franklin introduces us to Lady Jane Franklin first lady of Van Diemen’s Land, the great explorer and governor Sir Richard Franklin and George Augustus Robinson the Protector of Aborigines all of them linked by their roles in the life of Mathinna the young indigenous girl ‘adopted’ and then betrayed by them all.  As well, we meet Charles Dickens the man – and what a troubled person he is – almost manic we would say today – who also knew Lady Franklin and assisted her in memorialising her husband – lost forever in the Arctic.

We meet them all, and Mathinna apart, I found it beyond me to care about their respective wantings.  In an important Author’s Note at the end of the book, Franklin tells us that this book is about desire not history; about human desires set within respective cultures and religions.  Mostly what it demonstrates for me is that those cultures and religions were and are largely bereft of humanity, of insight, of empathy, and are crammed chock a block with ignorance and arrogance.

Still, Wanting is essential reading for its awful beauty and for its demonstration of the damage we all do by imposing our own ‘values’ on anyone else.

Debora Campbell

A young Aboriginal girl, Mathinna, runs through the wet wallaby grass
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