The Conversations at Curlow Creek

Malouf, David

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Jan-27-2000


The story takes place in the course of one night during the 1820's in the Australian outback. Carney, an Irish convict-turned-revolutionary, is scheduled for execution in the morning. Two soldiers guard him at the lonely outpost. An officer named Adair arrives to interrogate Carney, in the hope that he might betray his surviving comrades, especially Dolan, the leader of the insurrection.

The officer and the prisoner keep a vigil through the long cold night. Carney tells about his impoverished life in Ireland and his goal of achieving freedom for himself and his countrymen. Adair, too, is Irish. He remembers his own, more privileged life in Dublin.

The uneducated Carney asks, "Why is there so much injustice in the world?" Adair has no answer. At dawn Carney asks permission to wash in the stream before he is executed. The officer allows him to do so, and the convict presumably jumps on a horse and successfully flees. It is clear that Adair has permitted his charge to escape.


Abstract notions of good and evil, justice and injustice, break down as Adair listens to his prisoner's tale, which evokes a series of reminiscences from his own life. In this way the officer forms an empathic bond with Carney, a bond that allows him to see the world from Carney's point of view and experience the profound injustice. In the end Adair evidently rejects his duty as a British soldier in favor of (what he perceives as) a higher duty to save the Irish prisoner.

The spare, evocative style of The Conversations at Curlow Creek suggests the work of a poet. In fact, David Malouf is one of Australia's leading poets, as well as being a fine novelist. (See the annotation in this database for an earlier novel, Remembering Babylon.)


Random House: Vintage

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