Australian author explores gold rush era

In 1866, Peter Baxter’s misfortune ends the day he leaves Badgerys Creek orphanage. Unsure of what to do next, Peter finds himself on a farm run by Mr. Brown. An aging man, Brown needs help and is happy to give Peter a place to live in exchange for his labor. Unbeknownst to Peter, Brown’s past is riddled with dark secrets tied to the same orphanage, which he has documented in a red folder.

During a chance encounter, Peter meets Rose. Peter cannot help but fall in love with her beauty, grace, and wit; however, he fears that his affection will go unrequited as a result of his crippling poverty. But fate changes when Peter joins the search for gold in Hill End, New South Wales. Striking it rich, he returns to Rose a wealthy man. Peter is changed by his new found affluence, heading towards the mire of greed. Will Rose regret her relationship with Peter?

Meanwhile, Rose has her own troubled history. One that is deeply entwined with Brown’s past and Peter’s future.

Critically acclaimed author, Mehreen Ahmed, looks deep into Australia’s history with her new novel, The Pacifist.  Inspired by the lighthouse at Byron Bay, Ahmed weaves a tale that focuses on how the poor lived during the mid-nineteenth century in rural Australia.

Australia’s gold rush brought several minority groups to the continent. Reaching from Europe to Asia, an influx of immigrants arrived, bringing with them hopes of striking it rich.  The reality, however, was considerably different for many of these new settlers, who remained poor because they simply could not succeed in acquiring gold.  In need of employment during this tumultuous period, many of them sought employment as cheap labour.  They worked in factories, wealthy squatters’ farms, and sheep/cattle stations. The life of such workers was tough.

Ahmed often takes up the gauntlet, to speak out for the dispossessed that are typically the poor and the marginalized.  Ahmed says, “Growing up in Bangladesh during the civil war has made me aware of what it’s like to be on the outskirts of society.  I was a refugee during that time and now I feel it’s important to speak up for those who don’t usually have a voice.  Even in historical fiction, for example, it’s important to discuss poverty.  Poverty and slave labour was a problem during the 1800s and it’s a problem today.”

The Pacifist could be described as an exploration of the downtrodden, as well as the wealthy of the overall Australian society during the gold rush period. From the difficulties of living in an orphanage, to the poor living conditions of a farm labourer: the story delves further into greed that seeps unconsciously into the protagonist’s psyche with attaining wealth.  The Pacifist provides a stunning literary exposé about survival.

“I wanted to show, in a way, the foundation of Australia at its inception. The gold rush period is easy to romanticize – and in a lot of ways, it was just that.  Romantic.  In other ways, however, it was a harsh period of exploitation and suffering.  Especially when, to some degree, bigotry seemed to be institutionalized. Whether it be the British convicts, the Asians, or the aboriginals:  the underprivileged were kept in a state of being underprivileged until much later.  When the labour movement began in the mid-20th century, there is a clear movement towards equality.”

The Pacifist is available at most online book stores in ebook, paperback and hardcover formats.

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Dylan Callens

Dylan Callens is a writer and educator living in Sudbury.