A secret river
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Clash of Civilizations
The Secret River explores the clash of civilizations that began when Captain Cook first stepped foot on the land that become known as Australia. Throughout the novel, Grenville juxtaposes British and Aboriginal understandings of several important social concepts: personal property, clothing, hunting and farming, family relationships, and relationship to the natural environment. The incomprehension with which each culture regards the other leads to the majority of conflicts in the novel. The British concepts of private property and settlement, backed up by the guns and might of the Empire, eventually win the battle between the two civilizations.
Grenville presents Aboriginal culture as a lost idyll. Although the novel focuses on William's journey from the gutters of London to Australian gentry, Grenville places almost equal weight on the Aborigines and their way of life. She is careful to refute the label of savage that the settlers give to the Aborigines. Grenville conveys the richness of their culture and their deep attachment to the land. She contrasts the over-consumption of Western civilization with the Aborigines' understanding of the delicate balance of nature. Grenville suggests that the white settlers could have learned much from the Aborigines and, by extension, that the modern world with its disregard for the natural environment should open its eyes to the wisdom of native peoples.