In A Kinchela Boy Bevan tells the story of Mick Mahoney, an Aboriginal man on trial for the death of his wife, Mary Richardson. However, Mick’s struggles didn’t begin in the courthouse, but just before his eighth birthday, when he was taken from his family by ‘the Catcher Lady’ and raised in children’s homes in an attempt to ‘turn him white’ – just for having a white ancestor. Bevan creates a touching narrative with likeable characters to reveal some of the true atrocities of the Stolen Generations: not just that their childhoods were stolen, but that for many their whole lives were stolen … The style of writing, emulating Aboriginal speech, is original and effective … Bevan’s writing [is] robustly realistic
Bevan describes the story of the Kinchela boys as “heart-rending” and this is certainly a distressing, but compelling, read. Bevan’s insistence on using Mahoney’s aboriginal voice, pidgin English, jars at times … but adds authenticity. Mahoney doesn’t really understand what his lawyers are saying, or comprehend the priest’s well-meaning sermons. Mahoney describes himself as a “nowhere man” in prison – caught between two cultures. This is gritty stuff. Life in prison is one of assaults and rapes and Bevan doesn’t hold back in his descriptions. This may be fiction but it tells the story of real people and of bastardry that really happened.
This novel is a composite of professional and personal experiences. Christopher Bevan’s experience certainly tells, to the great benefit of his reader and this story. I am yet to read a white fella who can transpose the idiom of aboriginal English as convincingly as Christopher Bevan does in these pages. No doubt he learnt this skill from hours of listening to Mick Mahoneys over the years, but this brilliant realisation enables the reader to enter Mick’s world on his terms.
… the details of the gathering of evidence, allotment of an aboriginal legal aid solicitor, the trial process, client-lawyer interviews, drama of the Appeals Court, and the repartee between Counsel and Judges is all acutely observed. It makes for a believably tragic story.
… the warm portrayal of the nuns running the aboriginal orphanage is a welcome change to the stereotype
…The central story of Mick Mahoney is very moving indeed.
Have you ever tried to read a book with your eyes averted? It’s kind of like watching a scary movie with your hands over your eyes. You peek through your fingers to see when it is safe to watch again, and in the meantime you see all the grisly stuff anyway. Reading A Kinchela Boy is a bit like that. At first it’s just a story. But as it dawns on the reader that this is based on things that really happened … it’s harder to read without flinching.
… Mick is a half-caste, ‘saved’ from his family as a seven year old and subjected to unimaginable horrors. The story moves between adult Mick, in prison for murdering the love of his life, and Mick the child, tortured and abused. Forget the words black, half-caste and aboriginal. Focus on the word children. That these unspeakable things happened to children is unforgiveable … That is happened en masse is shameful.
Mick’s character, and those of his fellow aboriginal inmates, is written in a pidgin English … which adds to the poignancy of the story. Mick the man is worthy of compassion when you understand Mick the child. It’s the gentleness of the character that makes him so powerful. It’s the hopelessness of his life, the pointlessness of his hopes that makes this story so moving. It’s not a pretty story but it’s one worth reading. It pares the Stolen Generations down to the human element.
In retrospect, the whole idea of forcibly removing half-caste children from their parents to bring them up as ‘white people’ ranks with some of the excesses of the Nazi regime. Christopher Bevan … has written a remarkably moving story of one such boy, Mick Mahoney, who after leaving the [Kinchela Boys’] home finds works as a station hand in northern Queensland for a number of years. Gravitating back to the Kempsey area, he falls in love with Mary, a half-caste Aboriginal who, thanks to her mother, has avoided being removed from her family. The novel deals mainly with the time Mick spends in Grafton Gaol in company with other Kinchela boys incarcerated for various crimes. … It is a grim existence made bearable by such men as his cellmate, Keg … who makes it his duty to care for Mick, and the two form a close bond while Mick serves out his time for a crime he never committed.
Christopher Bevan gives an account of the tragic story of Aborigines, as well as of all the indigenous peoples around the world. As he recounts their struggle for survival against the machinery of men, you will be able to hear their outcry. The wounds are reopening as you turn the pages.