ONLY KILLERS AND THIEVES
by Paul Howarth
One scorching day in Australia deserted outback, Tommy McBride and his brother Billy return home to discover that their parents have been brutally murdered.
Distraught and desperate for revenge, the young men set out in search of the killers. But the year is 1885, and the only man who can help them is the cunning and ruthless John Sullivan wealthy landowner and their father s former employer.
Rallying a posse of men, Sullivan defers to the deadly Inspector Noone and his Queensland Native Police an infamous arm of colonial power whose sole purpose is the dispersal of Indigenous Australians in protection of settler rights. The retribution that follows will leave a lasting scar on the colony and the country it later becomes. It will also haunt Tommy for the rest of his life.
Set against Australia s stunningly harsh landscapes, Only Killers and Thieves is a compelling, devastating novel about cruelty and survival, injustice and honour and about two brothers united in grief, then forever torn apart.
Set in the untamed wild frontier of 1880s Australia, this is an epic Western with a coming-of-age story at its heart. Tommy and Billy McBride, aged 14 and 16 years old, are dirt poor and wearing their father’s old clothes. They’re out on the hunt, in the barren outback, their dogs back home. They know not to go on John Sullivan’s land, Broken Ridge, but find themselves there in a district that Sullivan’s ancestor took without a shilling being paid.
Tommy and Billy are hiding in the bushes, watching wide-eyed as a group ride by, stopping to haul up three natives that are being dragged behind, trying to run in the dust but falling. One can’t get up and is kicked and shot. By a trooper. Tommy recognises two of the riders as Sullivan, a plump and red-faced man with piggy eyes, and Locke. Leading the uniformed troopers is Inspector Edmund Noone, a chief punisher of trespassers, and Tommy and Billy have been spotted. They agree never to cross the boundary again and are let go.
This tense opening leads to tragedy for the McBride family. They had been battling to survive a crippling drought when rain finally comes. Tommy and Billy return home to find their dogs dead in the yard, their father and mother shot dead and their younger sister Mary battling for her life.
Turning to Sullivan for help, Mary is taken off, believing that a doctor is on route. Eager for retribution, the brothers are persuaded by Sullivan to blame Aborigines as a former worker is framed, and they join his manhunt of terror, led by the Queensland Native Police.
Coerced and seduced by Sullivan and his power, Billy falls under their evil spell. Tommy sees how Sullivan and Inspector Noone are sadistically operating and he begins to question their motives. It’s Tommy and perhaps Sullivan’s young wife, that the reader routes for, the only hope that this brutal spree of slaughter and rape can be stopped, but how?
A sad story, with strong references Only Killers and Thieves grips like a dingo and lives long in the memory. 100 years of history that does humanity few favours.
About the author
Paul Howarth was born and grew up in Great Britain before moving to Melbourne in his late twenties. He lived in Australia for more than six years, gained dual citizenship in 2012, and now lives in Norwich, United Kingdom, with his family.
In 2015, he received a master’s degree from the University of East Anglia’s creative writing program, the most prestigious course of its kind in the UK, where he was awarded the Malcolm Bradbury Scholarship.