The Visitors

Jane Harrison

The Visitors
HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd
30 August 2023

The Visitors

Jane Harrison

The most exciting debut in 2023, The Visitors is an audacious, earthy, funny, gritty and powerful re-imaging of a crucial moment in Australia's history - an unputdownable work of fiction.

On a steamy, hot day in January 1788, seven Aboriginal men, Elder statesmen representing the nearby clans, gather at Warrane. Several newly arrived ships have been sighted in the great bay to the south, Kamay. The men meet to discuss their response to these Visitors. All day, they talk, argue, debate. Where are the Visitors from? What do they want? Might they just warra warra wai back to where they came from? Should they be welcomed? Or should they be made to leave? The decision of the men must be unanimous - and will have far-reaching implications for all.

Throughout the day the weather is strange, with mammatus clouds, unbearable heat, and a pending thunderstorm ... Somewhere, trouble is brewing.

From award-winning author and playwright Jane Harrison, The Visitors - based on her smash hit play of the same name - is powerful, playful, provocative and moving, a radical re-envisioning of history and an unputdownable work of fiction - think Twelve Angry Men but with an authentic Australian flavour and humour.


On the 26th of January 1788, a fleet of 11 British ships sailed into Sydney Harbour. From the British side, the arrival is well documented. What we don’t really know is what was the reaction of the people who inhabited the land prior to the arrival. Muruwari writer Jane Harrison imagines what might have happened on that fateful day in her new novel The Visitors, which is the powerful adaptation of her acclaimed play of the same name.

As the first ships arrive, the call goes out for a gathering of the elders of the various clans in the area to plan a response to the visitors. Seven elders gather on an escarpment overlooking the harbour. The majority arrive battleready and determined to unite to repel the invaders; some have memories and knowledge of an earlier visit 18 years prior when one ship arrived – that ship only stayed seven days, but memories of that encounter are mixed. A confrontation left one man dead and another wounded, and the visitors cut down trees and killed animals without permission or respect for Country. In return, they gave gifts of little use.

Gordon, whose country abuts the harbour, is adamant: these people are savages and must be driven away. In their first round of voting, all but one of the seven votes for seeing off these visitors. Walter’s is the only dissenting voice, urging a more considered approach, arguing that the motivations of the visitors isn’t known, that maybe they come in peace, that maybe they bring things that will benefit the communities.

Over the course of the day, the elders argue as more ships arrive. Harrison imagines the lives of the different elders and the communities they represent and presents an image of a sophisticated and complex society. When Walter produces a small axe left by the earlier visitors and demonstrates its efficiency, the others wonder, what is the use of time being saved, will it make their lives better? Ultimately, either Gordon or Walter’s argument must prevail, and a decision must be taken which will determine the course of history.

The Visitors is a masterful, thought-provoking book.

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