peteg's blog - noise - books - 2022 05 31 BenStubbs TheCrowEaters

Ben Stubbs: The Crow Eaters. (2019)

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Kindle. Pre-pandemic travel writing about South Australia, the state which is often subject to a desultory shellacking and yet is recognised as one of the best places in the world to visit. Stubbs did what few seem willing to do: he took the place seriously.

He covered: Maralinga, the cave dwellers of Coober Pedy, freshwater snorkelling at Mount Gambier, Chinese landing in Adelaide and Robe and walking to the Victorian goldfields at Ballarat, shark cage diving off the coast of Port Lincoln, the coinage of "the crow eaters", maintaining the dog fence, Wilpena Pound, Goyder's Line, the drinking but not the races at Innamincka, the Murray River and Coorong, the RFDS, Kangaroo Island, the City of Elizabeth (cf Jimmy Barnes), some Australian Utopianism (Paraguay, William Lane) and finally Adelaide. He's near the edge of anthropology/archaeology, journalism and travel writing, sometimes with excessive colour (cf The Ghetto at the Centre of the World). There are some good bits but oftentimes things fall away before they really get cranking. He tries to engage with Aboriginal groups and issues.

Stubbs did not cover (in any depth): sport, vineyards, Torrens title (or who Torrens was) or politics in general, the cuttlefish at Whyalla, music (Paul Kelly, Redgum, Doc Neeson/The Angels), festivals, Emu Field, Speed Week, the RAAF, submarine construction and shipbuilding, etc. — which is to say that he didn't get that far off the beaten track. His writing needed a bit of an edit; there are a few too many dodgy non sequiturs. For instance Adelaide being billed as the "City of Churches" bears no relation to how religious people are now. And convict-freedom was more about forced transportation (being compelled to South Australia, coerced to labour or to change religion) and less about being convicted of a crime. Also Newsouth Books needed to employ a fact checker: the old Ghan (the Central Australia Railway) never made it much past Alice Springs, and certainly not to Darwin.

The chapter on Maralinga was excerpted at the New York Times and also Inside Story. Goodreads.