“Until I wrote the book no-one knew about the terrible things that happened to these children” – Digging into the past with author David Hill

There are many parts to David Hill – NSW rail boss at the age of 33, Chairman of the ABC for nearly 10 years and head of the Australian Soccer Federation, just to name a few.

Some years ago, he added best-selling author to his CV. His latest book Convict Colony is his ninth book in 12 years.

He left school at 15 and did a range of jobs including hardware shop assistant, sandwich maker. landscaper and a pub bouncer.

He says he returned to study because: “I was so bored, I just drifted from mindless job to mindless job.”

He then gained a scholarship to university and a world of opportunities opened up.

“I’ve never been particularly ambitious,” he says.  “I never had a plan or plotted a path but I am certainly guilty of being enthusiastic.”

He says becoming a writer was also unplanned but he felt compelled to write about Fairbridge.

Hill was 12 years old when he and his brothers migrated to Australia as part of the Fairbridge Farm School Child Migrant scheme and worked on a farm at Molong near Orange.

Hill says he was one of the lucky ones because his mother did come out from England, and made a home for her sons.

He said many children suffered a loveless, harsh existence of abuse and trauma and never saw their family again.

The Forgotten Children: Fairbridge Farm School and Its Betrayal of Britain’s Child Migrants to Australia published in 2007 is, he says, the most important thing he has ever done.

“Until I wrote the book no-one knew about the terrible things that happened to these children.

“Nearly 1000 kids went through there.”

After completing the book, the publishers asked him to write another and he wrote 1788 about the First Fleet and the first few years of settlement.

Convict Colony takes that story further, to the first 30 years. It is a fascinating and easy-to-read history on how the early penal colony survived against all odds to form the building blocks of the nation we are today.

There is nothing dry about this epic journey of the First Fleet.

The world’s largest overseas migration involved 11 ships, 1500 people (including 800 convicts} 500 animals and food for two years.

“They nearly starved to death, they lost the farm animals and nearly 10 years after they arrived they still had food rationing,” says Hill.

The primary resource for the fascinating facts was the Historical Records of NSW first published in 1893. The eight volumes contain 6000 pages of primary source material including original documents, proclamations, orders, letters and reports.

For Hill, the biggest shock they contained was evidence of the complete lack or resources at the time.

“Ten years down the track John Hunter the Governor wrote twice to London saying the entire colony was naked (they were so short of everything) he also gave evidence to the House of Commons, that he had 400 to 5000 convicts working in the field naked as they day were born.

“For decades, most of the settlers had no chair to sit on, no table to eat on and no proper bed to sleep on. They didn’t have blankets.”

He said he was also surprised by how corrupt the military had become and what “a nasty piece of work” John Macarthur was.

“What makes it such a riveting read is that it is full of villains and most of the characters are flawed,” he said.

“I did 100 times the research I needed to fill the book.

“I couldn’t wait to turn the page to find out what happened next in the records.”

That pretty much describes Convict Colony. It’s a real page turner.

Catch David Hill in Conversation on Monday, November 25, from 7pm to 8pm at The Rebellion Room, Level 1 Castle Hill Library & Cultural Centre, 14 Pennant St. 

Tickets are $10.

Book at https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/an-evening-in-conversation-with-david-hill-tickets-74643315165

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