Fraser Island, Australia 1882. The population of the Badtjala people is in sharp decline following a run of brutal massacres. When German scientist Louis Müller offers to sail three Badtjala people – Bonny, Jurano and Dorondera – to Europe to perform to huge crowds, the proud and headstrong Bonny agrees, hoping to bring his people’s plight to the Queen of England.
Accompanied by Müller’s bright daughter, Hilda, the group begins their journey to belle-époque Europe to perform in Hamburg, Berlin, Paris and eventually London. While crowds in Europe are enthusiastic to see the unique dances, singing, fights and pole climbing from the oldest culture in the world, the attention is relentless, and the fascination of scientists intrusive. When disaster strikes, Bonny must find a way to return home.
KATHERINE JOHNSON lives in Tasmania with her husband and two children. She is the author of three previous novels and her manuscripts have won Varuna Awards and the Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Prizes. She recently completed a PhD, which forms the basis of her latest novel, Paris Savages.
A moving and at times shocking portrait of the experiences of three Aboriginal people, brought to Europe to be exhibited in “human zoos” alongside other ethnic peoples from around the world.
Treated as animals or objects by scientists and onlookers alike, the dignity and courage of Bonny, Jurano and Dorondera is impressive.
We’d like to think we live in more enlightened times but the continued “othering” of people of colour around the globe suggests we’re no better than the gawking crowds of the 19th century.
This is a timely and powerful novel, reminding us of the humanity of others and that we are all the same, regardless of our skin colour and origins.
K’gari, the island homeland of the Badtjala, was only officially returned to its people in 2014, the author’s note tells us, I hope that the ancestors of the real Bonny, Jurano and Dorondera still live there, among their families and friends, free from the kind of exploitation and trauma their ancestors suffered at the hands of so-called scientists, the real savages.
This is a book I imagine that will linger long after the reader finishes it, as it has with me.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.