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Esther

Esther only just escaped the hangman in London. She was aged 16 when she stood trial for stealing twenty-four yards of black silk lace, worth fifty shillings, from Harrops’ Drapery. Her sentence was ‘transportion to parts beyond the seas’ for seven years.

She embarked on the perilous journey around the globe on the First Fleet, and on the journey she took up with the dashing young First Lieutenant George Johnston. Usually such arrangements between convict women and army officers were temporary, but George stuck by Esther. In the early days they lived in a tent at Sydney Cove, and over time George was granted land in what is now the Sydney suburb of Annandale, where they established a farm and together they raised a large family.

When Governor Bligh was deposed by the Rum Corps, Lieutenant-Colonel George Johnston briefly became Lieutenant-Governor of NSW and his life companion, Esther, became First Lady of the colony, a remarkable rise in society for a former convict.

It was Lachlan Macquarie who insisted that George and Esther get married, which they did in fine style at their great residence. Subsequently, when George died, Esther, as his widow, took control of their business interests (which she had previously done whenever he was away) and became one of Sydney’s wealthiest citizens.

A Very Rude Awakening

On the night of 31 May 1942, Sydney was doing what it does best: partying. The theatres, restaurants, dance halls, illegal gambling dens, clubs and brothels offered plenty of choice to roistering sailors, soldiers and airmen on leave in Australia’s most glamorous city. The war seemed far away. Newspapers devoted more pages to horse racing than to Hitler.

That Sunday night the party came to a shattering halt when three Japanese midget submarines crept into the harbour, past eight electronic indicator loops, past six patrolling Royal Australian Navy ships, and past an anti-submarine net stretched across the inner harbour entrance. Their arrival triggered a night of mayhem, courage, chaos and high farce which left 27 sailors dead and a city bewildered. The war, it seemed, was no longer confined to distant desert and jungle. It was right here at Australia’s front door.

Written at the pace of a thriller and based on new first person accounts and previously unpublished official documents, A Very Rude Awakening is a ground-breaking and myth-busting look at one of the most extraordinary stories ever told of Australia at war.

Tom Wills

This is the story of Tom Wills – flawed genius, sporting libertine, fearless leader and agitator, and the man most often credited with creating the game we now know as Australian Rules football.

Sent to the strict British Rugby School in 1850 at fourteen, Tom returned as a worldly young man whose cricket prowess quickly captured the hearts of Melburnians. But away from the adoring crowds, in the desolation of the Queensland outback, he experienced first-hand the devastating effects of racial tension when his father was murdered in the biggest massacre of Europeans by Aboriginal people. Yet five years later, Tom coached the first Aboriginal cricket team.

Tom Wills lived hard and fast, challenging authority on and off the field. But when his physical talents began to fade, the psychological demons that alcohol and adrenaline had kept at bay surged to the fore, driving him to commit the most brutal of suicides. He was forty-four and destitute.

Greg de Moore has carefully pieced together Tom’s life, giving us an extraordinary portrait of the life and times of one of Australia’s first sporting heroes, a man who lived by his own rules and whose contribution to Australian history has endured for more than 150 years.

Great Convict Stories

Graham Seal takes us back to Australia’s ignominious beginnings, when a hungry child could be transported to the other side of the globe for the theft of a handkerchief.

It was a time when men were flogged till they bled for a minor misdemeanour, or forced to walk the treadmill for hours. Teams in iron chains carved roads through sandstone cliffs with hand picks, and men could select wives from a line up at the Female Factory. From the notorious prison regimes at Norfolk Island, Port Arthur and Macquarie Harbour came chilling accounts of cruelty, murder and even cannibalism.

Despite the often harsh conditions, many convicts served their prison terms and built successful lives for themselves and their families. With a cast of colourful characters from around the country–the real Artful Dodger, intrepid bushrangers like Martin Cash and Moondyne Joe, and the legendary nurse Margaret Catchpole–Great Convict Stories offers a fascinating insight into life in Australia’s first decades.