Weekend Books



GIllian Mawdsley is impressed by Cal Flynn’s first novel – inspired by the discovery that one of her ancestors was Angus McMillan, the leader of the notorious Highland Brigade that massacred aborigines in 19th century Australia while Connor Beaton delves into the darker side of the Internet to explore hate crime in cyberspace.

This is a first novel by Cal Flyn described perfectly by her sub-text ‘History, Secrets and Guilt: A Memoir’. Since 1945, genocide has been recognised as a crime. But not one where our ancestors are the perpetrators. Ms Flyn’s book dispels that myth. She writes about her great-uncle whose background, by chance, she discovered.

In 1837, Angus McMillan left Scotland at the time of the Highland Clearances to go to Australia. He was commemorated there for discovering Gippsland, a fertile area in the southeast. But memorials celebrating his achievement hid a darker past.

He led a Brigade which, in July 1843, slaughtered a Gunai encampment at Warrigal Creek killing up to 200. He justified the attack as a reprisal for the brutal murder of the local landowner’s nephew. Other massacres occurred at places with evocative names such as Butchers Creek and Slaugterhouse Gully meaning that by 1854 only 126 of the local Aborigines remained. Before the European settlers arrived, there were 1800.

Vivid as her fictional account of the massacre is, it carries an all too familiar air of authenticity from reading accounts of hate crimes perpetrated on minorities. This is a well developed theme of her cleverly constructed novel.

She reflects on her ‘intergenerational guilt’; what responsibility do we hold for our ancestors’ actions? That motivated her to travel to Australia following in his footsteps. The result provides a chilling account as she considered the true character of Angus McMillan as hardworking Scottish hero or the ‘butcher of Gippsland’. She ends her account with his death. The reader however is left to judge Angus McMillan.

This is an original, challenging and thought-provoking book against a backdrop of little known Australian history (for Scots). We can ponder about our own ancestors’ actions referred as Ms Flyn does in the words of the Proclaimers’ song: ‘I spent the evening thinking about all the blood that flowed away across the ocean to the second chance. I wonder how it got on when it reached the promised land?’

Gillian Mawdsley

Thicker Than Water. By Cal Flyn. Published by William Collins. Hardback  £16.99, 384pp.

Danielle Keats Citron’s Hate Crimes in Cyberspace makes for uncomfortable but important reading for lawyers in the 21st century.

With an excellent understanding of how the Internet functions and how people engage with it, Citron is placed well to dissect increasingly common (and continuously under-reported) forms of online stalking, harassment and bullying.

From the first page, Citron sets out harrowing, real-life examples of how cyber-crime has been used to ruin people’s lives and careers – before thoroughly breaking down the legal framework which allows for those responsible to be brought to justice through the courts and recommending a series of legal reforms to create even tougher laws.

Writing from an American perspective, she grapples with free speech defences of online harassment, spending a chapter writing on the need to balance civil rights with free speech values.

But she rejects appeals for Internet users to grow “thick skin” in favour of using the criminal justice system to make the Internet a safer and more inclusive place, particularly for women, who are disproportionately made the victims of hate crimes in cyberspace.

It is not an easy read. Many of the examples given are dark, disturbing and not all have happy endings. But as the world changes and the Internet – especially social media – occupies a larger-than-ever part of our lives, it is important to understand the extent of the problem at hand.

Instead of joining some politicians and parts of the media in dismissing online harassment as trivial or less significant than “real life” crimes, Citron identifies cyber-crime as a new frontier in civil rights law and expertly carries out the unenviable task of articulating that in writing.

Connor Beaton

Hate Crimes in Cyberspace. By Danielle Keats Citron. Published by Harvard University Press. Paperback £14.95, 352pp.