"The Sydney Experiment" was the political experiment of founding Sydney as a penal settlement to receive criminals. In late-18th-century Britain, people were hanged for petty offences, yet crime was rife. The goals were bursting, and over-flow prisoners were kept in notorious 'hulks', rotting old ships moored offshore. Out of this situation was born the 'solution': criminals perceived to 'damage' British society would be transported. Australia was surrounded by sea and a very long way away: thus Sydney was founded as 'an open-air prison' with 'walls 14,000 miles thick'. Thus, too, was Australia colonised. There had been no reconnaissance (Captain Cook had landed just the once), and British politicians were utterly ignorant about the undespoiled continent to which they dispatched a convoy of 11 ships in 1787 (the First Fleet). The transports spent 8 hellish months at sea.
Tom Keneally tells the fascinating story of Captain Arthur Phillip, the Commodore of the First Fleet, who was empowered to govern the new colony, and who then became the friend of Bennelong, one of the native aboriginal tribes, who found themselves desperately interacting with the convicts, sailors, marines and officers suddenly dumped on their shores. There were orgies, diseases, court marshalls, hangings, escapes, hunger and others. Governor Arthur Phillip, who was in effect the despotic ruler of New South Wales, imposed order ...and eventually the 'open-air prison' was to develop into one of the most vibrant cities in the world.
Thomas Keneally is married with two daughters and a grandson, and lives most of the year in Sydney, Australia. His numerous books include novels, memoirs and history. He has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times, and won it in 1982 with Schindler's Ark since made by Steven Spielberg into the internationally acclaimed film Schindler's List. Hodder /Sceptre do his fiction in the UK, and Chatto/Vintage publish his non fiction, including his entertaining book on the American civil war, American Scoundrel, and his superb epic about Irish convicts, The Great Shame.