Terra Nullius

Claire G. Coleman  - published September 2018

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

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

“So smart, unexpected, and surprising. . . . Incredibly moving and eye-opening.”
— Hugh Jackman

“Deftly twists expectations. . . . a debut that leaves you excited for what’s next.”
— NPR Best Books of the Year

“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

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]

Neukom Institute Debut Literary Arts Award shortlist 2019
Nominated for the Dublin Literary Award 2019
Shortlisted for the Reading Women Award
2018 Shortlisted for the Stella Prize
2018 Shortlisted for the ABIA Matt Richell Award for New Writers
2018 Winner of the Norma K Hemming Award
2018 Winner of the Tin Duck Award
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 Runner Up for the MUD Literary Prize Publishers Weekly
Big Indie Books of Fall 2018
Locus Recommended Reading List

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 bring peace to their new home, and they have a plan for how to achieve it. They will tear Native families apart and provide re-education to those who do not understand why they should submit to their betters. Peace and prosperity are worth any price, but who will pay it? This rich land, Australia, will provide for all if only the Natives can learn their place. Jacky has escaped the Home where the Settlers sent him, but where will he go? The Head of the Department for the Protection of Natives, known to Settlers and Natives alike as the Devil, is chasing Jacky. And when the Devil catches him, Sister Bagra, who knows her duty to the ungodly, will be waiting for Jacky back at Home. An incendiary, timely, and fantastical debut from an essential Australian Aboriginal writer, Claire G. Coleman. Do you recognize this story? Look again. This is not Australia as we know it. This is not the Australia of our history books. This Terra Nullius — shortlisted for the 2018 Stella Prize and Highly Commended for the Victorian Premiers Literary Awards — is something new, but all too familiar.

Interview To Change the Dialogue: An Interview with Claire G. Coleman by Robert Wood on the Los Angeles Review of Books

Reviews “What Claire Coleman does with the theme of colonialism is something the like of which I haven’t seen before, something that only speculative fiction can do. I’m tempted to elaborate, but I shall desist. Readers should experience the power of this astonishing book for themselves. As the words at the back of the book say, ‘Do you recognize this story? Look again.'” — Vandana Singh, author of Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories

Terra Nullius is a striking debut from a new Australian Aboriginal voice. The speculative–fiction lens reframes European invasion, shifting and unsettling the reader’s perspective. The devastation of colonisation and displacement is explored with originality, compassion and insight.” — State Library of Queensland Dublin Literary Award Nomination

“Coleman’s skillful use of science fiction elements enhances her story, causing readers to recognize the alien as something all too familiar. Terra Nullius possesses a universal impact and stands as one of the best novels addressing colonialism that we’ve ever read.” — Reading Women

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

“Claire G. Coleman’s Terra Nullius employs sci-fi tropes to challenge the reader’s identification with the story — and history.” — Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project in the Sydney Morning Herald

Terra Nullius is a moving, horrific, and confrontational exploration of Indigenous Australian experiences of the apocalypse wrought by British colonialism. The novel demands that Indigenous voices and knowledges are included in the formation of shared futures. As such, it is a deeply necessary text. Coleman is an exciting new voice who has taken SF’s flexibility, and its position as arguably the best literary mode for the fictioning of the otherwise, and gone some way to realising the genres under-tapped potentials. Her work signifies how the SF genre can address past injustice, through remembering rather than trying to forget, and thereby nurture new ways of being collectively. Coleman’s work challenges SF to be better, revitalising and compelling the genre to realise its political importance as an incubator for counterfutures, alternative imaginaries and as a home for the people yet to come.” — Rachel Hill, Strange Horizons

“I thought I knew what to expect, going in to Terra Nullius.” — Adri, Nerds of a Feather

“Demonstrates Coleman’s promise as a creative storyteller. VERDICT Highly recommended.” Library Journal (Starred Review)

“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)

“The novel, which was originally published in Australia and New Zealand in 2017, literally hits the ground running. Its opening sentence, introducing us to the fugitive who is one of the main protagonists, is ‘Jacky was running,’ and the pace never really lets up. . . . gripping, harrowing, but ultimately deeply humane tale.” — Gary K. Wolfe, Locus

“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

“The novel’s striking realism is productively complicated by its science fiction.” — BCCB

“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.

Originally published in Australia by Hachette Australia.
Cover Design by Grace West.