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Terra Nullius

In the near future Australia is about to experience colonization once more. What has been learned from our past? A daring debut novel from the winner of the 2016 black&write! writing fellowship.

ebook · 9781618731524 | trade paper · 320 pages · $17 · 9781618731517

Wikipedia: Terra nullius (/ˈtɛrə.nʌˈləs/, plural terrae nullius) is a Latin expression meaning “nobody’s land”,[1] and is a principle sometimes used in international law to describe territory that may be acquired by a state’s occupation of it.[2]

Shortlisted for the Stella Prize 2018
Shortlisted for the ABIA Matt Richell Award for New Writers 2018
Highly Commended in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2017
Longlisted for the Indie Book Award for Debut Fiction 2018
Shortlisted for the Aurealis Award 2017
Nominated for Ditmar Award 2018
Shortlisted for the Norma K Hemming Award 2018
Winner of the Tin Duck Award
Runner Up for the MUD Literary Prize
Publishers Weekly Big Indie Books of Fall 2018

New: read an excerpt on LitHub.

“A gut punch of a book in the style of Le Guin, Atwood, and Butler. Claire G. Coleman’s debut novel blazes with truth.”
— Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble

Jacky was running. There was no thought in his head, only an intense drive to run. There was no sense he was getting anywhere, no plan, no destination, no future. All he had was a sense of what was behind, what he was running from.

The Natives of the Colony are restless. The Settlers are eager to have a nation of peace, and to bring the savages into line. Families are torn apart, reeducation is enforced. This rich land will provide for all.

This is not Australia as we know it. This is not the Australia of our history. This Terra Nullius, Shortlisted for the 2018 Stella Prize Indie Book Awards and Highly Commended for the Victorian Premiers Literary Awards, is something new, but all too familiar.

American readers will be fascinated by this incredible debut from a striking new Australian Aboriginal voice has captured the hearts and minds of Australian readers.

Download Terra Nullius Reading Group Guide (29 downloads) .


“Fantastic. . . . Unbelievable.” — Liberty Hardy, Book Riot

“Coleman stuns with this imaginative, astounding debut about colonization. . . . Coleman universalizes the experiences of invaded indigenous populations in a way that has seldom been achieved. Artfully combining elements of literary, historical, and speculative fiction, this allegorical novel is surprising and unforgettable.”
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“Australian natives living under the oppressive brutality of forced colonization struggle to survive, let alone fight back.
It’s little wonder that Australian Aboriginal writer Coleman has been praised and nominated for awards in her own country for her thoughtfully woke debut novel about an invasion of Australia by punishing settlers and the subsequent resistance by a native people. The title refers to an obscure legal principle used by Britain to justify the taking of Aboriginal territory—the term literally means ‘Nobody’s Land.’ This harsh scene of brittle détente in the Australian Outback, set during an ambiguous point in the country’s troubled history, is viewed through the eyes of several characters, all struggling in their own ways. Jacky is an orphaned boy, now a slave on the run, trying to get home even as trooper Sgt. Rohan hunts him through the desert. Sister Bagra is a cruel headmistress at a mission for native children, abusing her livestock with malicious glee. Esperance is a kind young woman who tries to protect her flock of starving refugees. A government official charged with the protection of natives is so evil even his own wife calls him “Devil,” like the natives do. By far the most interesting character is Johnny Star, a trooper who betrayed the colonizers and has accepted his fate as an outlaw traveling with a rough bunch of native comrades. It’s a cruel scene indeed, made more so by Coleman’s purposeful parallels to the evil treatment of native peoples during the British colonization of Australia in the 17th century. . . . Coleman doesn’t hurry in bringing these disparate characters together, but when it happens, a powerful myth comes to life before readers’ eyes.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Coleman’s timely debut is testimony to the power of an old story seen afresh through new eyes.” — Adelaide Advertiser

“In our politically tumultuous time, the novel’s themes of racism, inherent humanity and freedom are particularly poignant.” — Books + Publishing

“Claire G. Coleman’s Terra Nulllius is an arresting and original novel that addresses the legacy of Australia’s violent colonial history. . . . Coleman’s punchy prose is insistent throughout, its energy unflagging. Terra Nullius is a novel for our times, one whose tone is as impassioned as its message is necessary.” — Stella Prize Judges’ Report

“Noongar writer Claire Coleman’s debut novel, Terra Nullius, envisions a continent disturbingly familiar and worryingly futuristic. . . . It is a future beyond the boundaries of familiar 21st-century post-colonial settler discourse on reconciliation and “settlement” in a nation founded on the dispossession of Aboriginal lands, and ongoing ‘unfinished business’ with the first people.” — Sydney Morning Herald

“A powerful, sobering piece of writing that makes us face an Australia we try to forget, but should always remember.” — Adelaide Review

“A speculative sci-fi struggle meaningfully grounded in Coleman’s own Indigenous culture, Terra Nullius offers something new — a skilfully constructed pastiche of colonisation, resistance and apocalyptic chaos with parallels that sit unsettlingly close to home.” — Big Issue Australia

“Coleman makes a significant contribution to the emerging body of Aboriginal writers such as Ellen van Neerven and Alexis Wright who write spectral and speculative fiction to critique the vicious fiction of the colonial archive.” — Canberra Times

“Witty, weird, moving and original.” — Weekend Australian

About the Author

Claire G. Coleman is a Noongar woman whose family have belonged to the south coast of Western Australia since long before history started being recorded. She writes fiction, essays and poetry while (mostly) traveling around the continent now called  Australia in a ragged caravan towed by an ancient troopy (the car has earned “vintage” status). Born in Perth, away from her ancestral country she has lived most of her life in Victoria and most of that in and around Melbourne.During an extended circuit of the continent she wrote a novel, influenced by certain experiences gained on the road. She has since won a Black&Write! Indigenous Writing Fellowship for that novel, Terra Nullius.

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