- In the opening chapter we first meet Annabelle, encounter her marriage to Steven and her life in Melbourne. Here Miller manages to set up a whole series of contrasts that play out later in the novel. What do you think some of those contrasts are?
- All that is left of the pastoralists, the Bigges, is desolate Ranna station with its library of hollowed-out books. The family is described as ‘a dying breed’ and ‘a vanished race’ and Bo says ‘Them Bigges never knew they was gonna die out so quickly. They thought they was founding a whole new civilisation. But they’re gone. All them rand
people are gone.’ What is the lesson to be learnt from the experience of the Bigges at Ranna station?
- The climax to this novel is the scene with old Panya. Afterwards Bo says ‘Them days is over. If we don’t live together now we gunna do it all over again in years to come.’
Here Bo is arguing that the way forward is to live as Grandma Rennie did. Do you agree that Grandma Rennie and her life on Verbena station is a model for reconciliation?
- This is a story of black and white Australians. Indigenous and non-Indigenous. A cultural mixture, in other words. Why then do you think the point of view of the narration is that of the European woman alone?
- The word European is always capitalised. Should Indigenous also be capitalised?
- Why does Annabelle decide not to go to the ‘playground of the old people’? In doing so do you think Annabelle is rejecting her Europeanness by accepting that she does not need to know and see everything?
- Discuss the juxtaposition Miller creates between the Aboriginal code of signs and silence and the European one of inquiry and explanation. Annabelle says ‘If she were to adopt Grandma Rennie’s and Bo’s language of signs and silence it would be to defy the code of inquiry that lay at the heart of her own culture.’ Do you think these two worldviews can be reconciled?
- Arner is surrounded by images of stillness and silence and is described by Miller in regal terms. What is the role of Arner in the narrative? At the end of the novel Arner must decide between Panya and Bo. Which path does he choose?
- Does it matter whether or not a novel reflects the authentic conditions of the culture it claims to portray in the eyes of the peoples of that culture, even when these conditions may be surprising and counter to the more popular understanding of the
reader? Or is it more reassuring and ultimately satisfying for a reader if the cultural stereotype is confirmed by the writer?
- Andrea Stretton has said ‘In Bo Rennie, Alex Miller has created one of the great fictional characters of our literature’. Andrew Reimer has described Bo and Annabelle as ‘ciphers, abstractions even’. Compare and contrast the views expressed by Andrea and Andrew - who do you agree with?
- As Bo and Annabelle journey closer to the place of their origins, the contradictions embedded in their lives are exposed. Do you think despite this knowledge Bo and Annabelle’s love can survive and grow? What do you imagine their future to be?
- When the people and landscapes of our art, our music and our literature cease to have an existence in reality and survive only in our consciousness and in the art itself, does this represent a permanent and irreparable loss to our culture? Do we become members of a culture in decline as a result of these losses? A culture that is poorer and weaker? Should we struggle to limit the rate of these losses? Or should we view them as an inevitable exchange, the price of an increased wellbeing in the larger story of our evolution?