The Secret River

by

Kate Grenville

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Secret River can help.

The Secret River: Part 3: A Clearing in the Forest Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In September of 1813, the Thornhills board the Hope and begin their journey to the Hawkesbury River. Sal sits with the new baby, Mary, held tightly to her chest. She looks back towards Sydney until it's out of sight and then down at her feet. Thornhill knows she's trying hard to not be sick, and loves her for being willing to come with him. When they reach the Hawkesbury River, Thornhill watches Sal and the children look at the surrounding hills with fear and wonder. He realizes how much he's changed since he first saw the river: it now represents hope to him. He tries to comfort Sal.
It's important to keep in mind that Sal is only doing this because Thornhill promised that they will return to London after five years. Thornhill is well aware that she's viewing these five years as a means of earning her reward of getting to return to London. In this way, Sal shows that she hopes to use the lenient hierarchy system of New South Wales to reintegrate herself back into London culture, not simply to be successful here.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Dick asks if the savages will try to eat them, and Thornhill assures him that he won't let them. He glances at the gun wrapped in canvas. He'd bought it from a man in Sydney and when the man showed him how to use it, the kickback was enough to make him stagger. Thornhill thought he'd never be able to shoot a man, but thought that he'd earned the right to own a gun with his pardon.
The way that Thornhill conceptualizes the gun is directly influenced by the way he came to own it. It's a marker of his success and status, not necessarily a useful tool. With this, Thornhill experiences what's known now as "imposter syndrome:" he's pretending to belong by acquiring the symbols, but doesn't feel as though he truly belongs.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Finally, Thornhill points to where they're going to settle. The tide turns, however, and Thornhill decides to fight the tide to get to land now rather than sleep in the Hope for the night. He snaps at Willie to help, and the boy obeys. When they reach the shore, Thornhill jumps out of the boat into the squelching mud and makes his way onto dry land. He steps lightly and is in awe of the fact that the land is his. Thornhill walks into a clearing and marks out the perimeter of a hut while a black bird watches and crows at him.
The fact that Thornhill is the only one who experiences this as an awe-inspiring, almost religious experience illustrates just how important to him it is to own this land. To the rest of his family, it's a disruption of a life they knew, and it means they'll have to do the hard work of creating a home here all over again.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Thornhill, Willie, and Dick struggle to erect a canvas tent and manage to do so just before nightfall. When Thornhill goes back to the Hope to fetch Sal, he realizes that, although the journey from London to Sydney was certainly a longer one, this journey from Sydney to the river feels even further away. Willie coaxes his mother to stand by telling her they have tea and bread ready, and she finally allows them to help her, Bub, and Johnny out of the boat and onto dry land.
Thornhill begins to understand that moving to the Hawkesbury has made Sal feel like an immigrant all over again. Thornhill's Point may be owned by her husband, but as far as she's concerned, it is not her home. This suggests that Sal had begun to think of Sydney as her home.
Themes
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Get the entire The Secret River LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Secret River PDF
When they all reach the tent, Thornhill realizes how flimsy it must look to Sal, and realizes that she'll be on her own for a week at a time while he works up and down the river. The children look wary and skeptical of their new home. Thornhill knows that people can survive out here, but understands that Sal hasn't been far from real civilization before. Thornhill doubts that his family can actually be successful out here and looks at the sky. He thinks that the moon is the same one they saw in London, and tells Sal that this river is little different than the Thames. He begins to point to where different landmark buildings of London would be, but Sal says sadly that those buildings are still in London.
That Thornhill is realizing that Sal will be alone for periods of time only now shows just how much owning land means to him, and by extension, how he's not taken the time to consider the actual impact or practical aspects of moving to the Hawkesbury. This begins to show that although Thornhill has dreamed about and idealized this move, there are possibly very real consequences for moving here: Sal, because she's female and will be alone, will almost certainly be in danger.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
The family huddles close around the fire as night falls. Before sunset, Thornhill loads the gun. He wonders why it doesn't make him feel safe to have it. Thornhill studies the stars and Willie suddenly suggests that the natives might be watching them, though Thornhill quickly shushes him. When they go to bed, Sal snuggles close to Thornhill and he holds her until she falls asleep. As he lies awake, he thinks that he's finally lying on his own land.
Thornhill sees the gun as little more than a symbol of power and status rather than something that will actually make him powerful. Thornhill's fears about moving his family to the Point are overshadowed by the joy he feels at owning this land, which again makes it very clear where his priorities lie.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Related Quotes
At sunrise, Thornhill, Willie, and Dick walk down to a flat, clear strip of land by the river with only weedy daisies growing on it. Thornhill knows that what will make the land truly his is to plant corn there. When they get to the strip, Willie points out that someone's already been digging in the soil. Thornhill nearly cries, but steadies himself and inspects the patch. He realizes that it's not been dug in a neat square like someone with a pick or a hoe would dig, and the daisies are still lying on top of the soil.
Thornhill understands ownership in terms of cultivation, so he reasons that the land will be his if he plants something on it. Thornhill's inspection of the patch doesn't necessarily suggest that the daisies aren't cultivated purposefully, but it does suggest that if they are cultivated here on purpose, it wasn't by an Englishman. Thornhill seems not to even consider the possibility that the natives may feel that they already own this land.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Calmly, Thornhill tells his sons that moles or hogs must have dug up the dirt. Willie hears his father, but Dick says that savages planted the daisies while Willie tries to shush him. Thornhill thinks that Dick would be right, but it's common knowledge that the natives don't plant things, and that's one of the reasons they're called "savages." He tells Dick that the natives don't plant things and they go to work on the soil.
Thornhill's assessment is the first of several incidents in which he attributes things done by Aborigines to the natural world. This represents the colonial mindset that the natives are entirely incapable of doing things like cultivating the daisies on purpose.
Themes
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Hoeing is difficult. Thornhill sweats in the full sun, Willie hoes madly, and Dick dreamily scratches at one spot of dirt for minutes at a time. By afternoon, they've cleared a small square to plant corn. Thornhill sends the boys back to the tent for the seeds and sits down to admire his handiwork. Suddenly, he realizes that two black men are watching him. When he stands up, the two men step towards him with their spears. They regard each other for a minute until finally Thornhill approaches them and warily tells them to not spear him.
Thornhill's first meeting with the Aborigines is, importantly, a non-violent one. This suggests that the Aborigines aren’t violent, an idea that stands in direct opposition to the reported "outrages and depredations" in the Sydney Gazette. To be sure, the settlers don't have a good picture of what the Aborigines are actually like—there's a gulf in understanding between the two cultures.
Themes
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
The older of the two black men begins to speak in his own language, gesturing at the land all the while. Thornhill listens for a minute, but soon feels angry and dumb. He loudly interrupts the man and calls him "old boy," speaking to him as he remembered rich people used to speak on the Thames. Thornhill laughs and tells the men he can't understand them. The men don't laugh with him, and when Thornhill gestures to the land around them and says that it's his now and the natives have "all the rest," the native men don't look or laugh. Thornhill thinks that his hundred acres are surely insignificant in the grand scheme of New South Wales.
For Thornhill, not understanding the man speaking to him recalls times in his past when he couldn't understand members of the gentry class. All of those experiences made him feel stupid and inferior, and this one is little different. By adopting the speech patterns of the gentry, Thornhill ridiculously attempts to show his superiority and make the Aborigines feel inferior. Further, this shows Thornhill adopting not just the speech patterns of the gentry, but their hierarchical ways of thinking about people, as well.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Suddenly, Willie and Dick run down the hill with the corn seeds. They stop when they see the natives. Sal comes out of the tent and stops Bub and Johnny from following their brothers. She looks scared. Thornhill thinks that the natives look like they're waiting for something and wishes he'd bought beads to offer them before they left Sydney. Sal shouts to Thornhill to give them some of their pork, and yells to Willie to come and fetch it from her. Thornhill thinks that that's how she dealt with Scabby Bill, but these natives seem very different from him.
Even as Thornhill plays at being superior and powerful, he recognizes that he'll have to meet these men on some level and give them something in order to come to an agreement. This shows Blackwood's "take a little, give a little" principle in action. Further, Thornhill's desire to give them something shows that he doesn't actually want to fight the natives.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
The natives accept the pork and some bread but still don't move. Thornhill mimes eating, but they don't eat the food either. The younger man puts the pork down and Thornhill wonders if he should give them some of the coins in his pocket. As he reaches into his pocket, he hears Willie yell at the older man to give the spade back. Willie rushes the man and wrestles with him for the tool, but the man pushes Willie off. The two face off and yell at each other in different, angry languages. Thornhill thinks that there are too many people and not enough language, and feels like he's lost control of the situation.
Thornhill recognizes that the language barrier will be the primary obstacle to forming a peaceful relationship with the Aborigines, as without language, they won't be able to solve any of their conflicts. Willie's willingness to yell at this older man shows that he believes he's more powerful and worthy of respect than this man. This shows that Willie is entirely a product of the English culture that tells him he's superior to the Aborigines.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Thornhill yells "No!" and runs over to Willie. He slaps the old man's shoulder and continues to shout "No! No! No!" as he does. The old man's face closes as he reaches for his club, and the younger man lifts his spear. Thornhill hears others in the woods lifting their own spears. Sal cries out and then everyone falls silent. The old man grunts, drops the spade, and disappears into the forest. The younger man approaches Thornhill. Thornhill can see the stone and glass chips that make up the point of the spear. The man slaps Thornhill's shoulder, mirroring what Thornhill did to the old man, and then he gestures and speaks. Thornhill understands that he's telling them to go away. Then the man melts into the forest.
Specific language isn't always necessary to clearly communicate, as Thornhill learns when the younger man tells them to leave. Now, Thornhill will have to decide whether to listen. Not listening means denying the Aborigines any claim to the land. Importantly, the actions of both Thornhill and the younger man speak volumes, an idea that Thornhill will return to later. Their success communicating this way suggests that movement is also a language, distinct from spoken and written language.
Themes
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Bub asks why the natives didn't spear them, and Sal insists that the natives left once they gave them food. Thornhill thinks that Sal likely doesn't believe that, but he agrees with her anyway. The next morning, Thornhill crawls out of the tent to find it surrounded by spears stuck into the ground. He quickly gathers them up, but Willie sees. Thornhill assures Willie that if the natives wanted to kill them, they would've, but he feels hollow inside. He tells Willie that they shouldn't frighten Sal. Later, when they plant the seeds, Willie remarks that the shriveled seeds won't grow. Thornhill insists he doesn't care as long as he can lay claim to the land.
The spears send a clear message that Thornhill and his family aren't welcome, which again works to expand the definition of what counts as language. When Thornhill willfully ignores this message, he sends a message in return that he believes in the righteousness of his own claim to the land as an English settler more than he believes what the Aborigines tell him.
Themes
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Sal soon creates a yard of sorts for the family where she cooks and mends clothes, and she doesn't leave it unless absolutely necessary. She begins keeping count of the days on a tree near the tent. Thornhill hears her telling Willie that they'll be here for 260 weeks. He hopes that she'll stop counting, but she never does. Thornhill understands that she feels like a prisoner, though neither of them will admit the truth of it. He doesn't want to say out loud that his dream is Sal's idea of a prison.
Sal creates a sense of home and of belonging by fencing herself in, though the fence also contributes to the sense that Thornhill's Point is a prison for her. With this, the novel continues to expand its definition of what prison and punishment can be. This also shows Thornhill suddenly becoming the jailer, at least symbolically.
Themes
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Within two weeks, the corn sprouts. Willie and Dick water the plants while Sal tethers Bub and Johnny in the yard to keep them from danger. Though she agrees to come down to the corn patch to admire it, Sal doesn't seem impressed. When Thornhill tries to offer her edible plants he finds, she refuses to try them and insists on waiting for the corn. Thornhill understands that she's going to wait her five years before they can return to London. In the mornings, she tells Thornhill her dreams of wandering around London. All the Thornhills feel watched, though they don't actually see any of the natives.
Again, Sal does everything in her power to resist learning about her new home in an attempt to keep herself from adjusting. In addition, by turning her mind so fully to London and her future there, she reinforces for herself and for Thornhill that London is her home. By playing to Thornhill's guilt and not allowing him to forget his promise, she tries to ensure that he'll act fairly and follow through in the end.
Themes
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
For the first few weeks, Thornhill and his sons perform hard labor to get the corn growing and begin to construct a hut. After two weeks, Thornhill decides to climb the ridge on one edge of his property. He looks forward to seeing all of his land laid out before him. However, he soon realizes that the ridge isn't an easy or straightforward climb. After struggling for a while, he settles for a flat rock at the base of the ridge. From there, he can see Sal washing clothes and Willie standing still instead of hoeing. Thornhill yells to Willie, but the vastness of the land swallows his voice and it doesn't carry.
Though the landscape entrances Thornhill now that it's not so terrifying, it's still not exactly welcoming. This complicates how Thornhill thinks of this place as being home, as the land itself seems to directly oppose Thornhill's attempts to master it. Thornhill can't even control his own family, as the landscape swallows his voice. In short, the land isn't doing Thornhill any favors.
Themes
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Thornhill looks down at an ant and notices a freshly scratched line in the rock. He follows it and thinks that it must be the work of water and wind, though when he realizes that the lines make up a detailed drawing of a fish, he admits to himself that it's a drawing made by humans. The drawing is five yards long, and the fish looks very alive. As Thornhill walks around the fish, he notices another drawing overlapping the fish. Upon closer inspection, he realizes it's a drawing of the Hope. Thornhill makes an indignant noise, which the land also swallows up.
Thornhill's thought process mirrors the thoughts he had when he began his corn patch: he struggles to believe that the Aborigines are capable of creating something, which shows just how superior Thornhill believes his culture is. When the land "swallows" Thornhill's reaction, it suggests that the land is on the side of the Aborigines and that Thornhill's language has no place here.
Themes
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Thornhill looks around and sees no one watching him, but he realizes that even though the land may seem empty, the drawings are proof that this place is populated. He turns to watch Sal again and thinks that he'll tell her about the fish someday, but not yet. He begins to realize that once you start keeping secrets from someone, it's easier to keep doing it than to stop.
Now, Thornhill finally understands that what he calls "home" is land that others also think of as their home. He decides not to tell Sal about the fish to allow her to think she's safe. Again, his intentions are good, but it means that neither of them will be able to truly understand the other's experience.
Themes
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
On their fourth week on the Hawkesbury, Smasher Sullivan arrives with a housewarming gift of rat poison, a keg of lime, and oranges from his tree. His dog follows him up to the half-finished hut. Sal greets Smasher as though they're old friends and offers him all the hospitality she can, while Thornhill only sits down to be pleasant. Smasher tells them how he was convicted and sent to New South Wales. Sal tells Smasher her story and shows him her marks on the tree. Thornhill realizes how lonely Sal is, but thinks that he hadn't thought to ask her about it.
Arriving with gifts stands in stark contrast to what Thornhill saw on his first trip up the river: this is chilling evidence that Smasher is racist and cares only for the white inhabitants of the river. When Thornhill finally learns that Sal is lonely, he confronts the consequences of his own silence. She's turning to others instead of him, and in some ways, putting him in his own prison of solitary confinement.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
When Dick gets tired of holding Mary, Sal takes her and sends Dick to play. With the children gone, Smasher begins talking about the natives and regales them with tales of their viciousness. Sal becomes quiet and holds Mary tightly, while Thornhill tries to give Smasher a hint to stop talking. Smasher continues to talk about his guns and his dogs, which he trains to attack only natives. Finally, Thornhill puts the cork in the rum bottle and Smasher finally shouts goodbye and leaves. Both Thornhill and Sal can't seem to shake the violent stories.
Smasher seems to get real pleasure and satisfaction from talking like this. This kind of language allows him to feel superior and successful, though it also shows that his success is built on a foundation of violence and cruelty. The fact that Thornhill and Sal can't escape the stories after Smasher's departure recalls Thornhill's observations from prison: the stories seem more true the more often they're told.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Later that night, when the lamp goes out, Sal forces herself to laugh and asks Thornhill if Smasher is just exaggerating. Thornhill insists that he surely is, but thinks about the hands and the flayed man he saw his first time up the river. Sal is quiet for a minute and then says she didn't like how Smasher spoke about having guns and whips around to teach the natives lessons. She makes Thornhill swear he'd never do that. Thornhill thinks of watching Collarbone hang and how he lied to Sal that the death was clean. He assures her he'd never be so violent and Sal falls asleep immediately.
By continuing to lie, Thornhill creates a false sense of safety for Sal, one that downplays the very existence of the Aborigines, as well as invalidates and tones down the very real violence of Smasher's words. It suggests that Smasher isn't one to be taken seriously when, in fact, he embodies the beliefs of many settlers: that the natives aren't welcome on this land, and violence is a perfectly acceptable way to deal with them.
Themes
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
The hut proves a difficult structure to erect. As Thornhill fights the difficult earth to build it, he discovers that he's actually capable of building things. He finishes the hut in the fifth week on the Hawkesbury and has cleared a larger corn patch by then, too. The hut makes the place seem more human, though it's so crude it barely keeps the wilderness out: one morning, a black snake crawls out of Willie and Dick's mattress. They all watch it go silently, and then Sal tells Willie and Dick to patch the gaps in the walls after breakfast. Sal insists that they don't have to do an impeccable job since they'll be leaving soon, but Thornhill wonders if five years is going to be enough.
Thornhill is able to deepen his emotional connection to Thornhill's Point by building the physical home on his land. Though Sal certainly benefits from the new hut, she still works hard to keep her distance from the building that she could call home. For her, the building has little symbolic value—it's not much more than a place to stay for a while. Thornhill's wondering suggests that his emotional connection is strengthening so much that he's considering breaking his promise to Sal.
Themes
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Thornhill encourages Smasher to tell others on the river that his family enjoys company, so one Sunday, several neighbors arrive. Smasher arrives first, followed by a man named Sagitty. Sagitty had once had a wife and children here in New South Wales, but they all died. He farms wheat and raises hogs, though he insists that the natives steal from him constantly. Though Thornhill bristles when Sagitty says he "learned them a lesson,” he understands that theft on the scale he describes isn't a small matter.
Thornhill finds Sagitty a more sympathetic character than Smasher because he lays out a logical system of actions and consequences when it comes to the natives (they steal, he punishes them). Smasher, on the other hand, doesn't seem to require provocation to behave violently towards his black neighbors. This shows that Thornhill very much relies on these systems of justice to justify his beliefs and actions.
Themes
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Sagitty and Smasher exchange knowing looks as they talk about the natives. Thornhill tries to change the subject, but Smasher dreamily says that killing the natives is like killing flies. Sal stops in her tracks. Smasher notices and insists he doesn't actually kill the natives, but Thornhill knows he's lying.
Smasher shows here that he thinks of the Aborigines as completely sub-human, and therefore worthy only of being hunted for sport—a horrifying way to think of and treat any group of people.
Themes
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
A man nicknamed Spider arrives with Loveday. Thornhill hopes the conversation will turn away from killing the natives, but it only becomes more intense. Spider insists that the natives are vermin, and tells the group that they kill white people and eat them. Loveday regales them with a tale of being speared in the hip and even shows them the scar. Thornhill laughs with the others, but hopes that Sal will think that these are stories and not factual. The widow Mrs. Herring arrives. She tells Sal that because she lives alone, she gives the natives what they want and turns a blind eye when they steal. She insists that she has enough supplies to not need to make trouble.
Mrs. Herring's view on how to deal with the Aborigines is more closely aligned with Blackwood's than any of the other attendees. However, hers also seems to come from a place of fear and recognition that she's vulnerable as a single, older woman. This suggests that she might not think this way if she had more power or didn't live alone, while Blackwood's philosophy seems to come more from an active choice to cooperate than from a place of fear.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Smasher notices Blackwood coming up the river. Smasher and Sagitty exchange a hard glance as Blackwood walks up with a keg of his homemade rum. When he arrives, everyone becomes quiet and sober. Thornhill thinks he barely knows Blackwood. Even though he worked with him for a year, Blackwood had discouraged Thornhill from visiting him on the river.
Blackwood truly seems worlds apart from any of his companions here: he's silent and unknowable, with beliefs that don't line up with anyone else's. This suggests that he's operating under an entirely different social system than everyone else, and makes his participation in this system somewhat fraught.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Smasher says loudly that the natives stole from him the night before. As though he didn't hear, Blackwood motions to Thornhill's cornfield and notes that he dug up the daisies. Blackwood explains that the roots are edible, like yams, and the natives gave him some when he first arrived. Mrs. Herring agrees that the daisies are sweet, and Blackwood tells Thornhill that once you dig up the daisies, they won't grow back and the natives will go hungry. Sagitty angrily insists that the natives don't farm, but Blackwood speaks over him and says that there was a meeting a while ago between the Governor and one of the natives who spoke some English, and they shook hands that no more white settlers can claim land past a certain point of the river.
Blackwood's information about the daisies is an encouragement for Thornhill to see his own farming methods as destructive, not just a way to lay claim to the land. This in turn challenges Thornhill's sense of ownership of his land, as his corn is his way of staking a claim. It's worth noting that the meeting Blackwood mentions was one of many that took place during this time that did grant the Aborigines some rights to their land, but these agreements were all overturned about 20 years later so that Englishmen could settle even more area without consequences.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Smasher yells that the natives are dishonest thieves, and Blackwood insults Smasher's own honesty. Blackwood turns to Thornhill and tells him again that he needs to remember that when he takes a little, he has to give a little back. He gets up and leaves, and the rest soon follow. Thornhill wonders if Blackwood's advice is a warning or a threat, but he knows it's better than any advice from Smasher.
For now, Thornhill recognizes that Blackwood's peaceful relationship with the Aborigines is preferable to the violent ways of Smasher and Sagitty, but Thornhill doesn't have seem to have the tools or temperament to build a relationship like Blackwood's with the natives. Thornhill is too caught up in claiming the place as his own to "give a little."
Themes
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Before the Thornhills left Sydney, Thornhill had applied for convict servants. Five weeks after moving to the river, he receives word that he's been assigned two. Thornhill worries about leaving his family alone for a week, but he and Sal know he has to go. As he leaves, he waves to Sal and thinks of how vulnerable Thornhill's Point is.
The convict servants are another status symbol for Thornhill, as they mean that he actually has power over other Englishmen and not just theoretical power over the Aborigines.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
On the wharf, Thornhill remembers what it was like to emerge from the dark ship years ago. Thornhill is unpleasantly surprised to find that the captain who brought him to New South Wales on the Alexander is there, assigning convicts to free men. When the two men look at each other, the captain recognizes Thornhill and insults him. Thornhill tries to look stony, but realizes that he'll always be known as a felon even if he's free now. 
Being back on the wharf where he himself arrived in New South Wales, Thornhill realizes that his past life as a poor man and as a convict will follow him forever. However, Thornhill doesn't feel this way on Thornhill's Point, which suggests that owning that land is allowing Thornhill to escape his past.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Thornhill gets one of the last picks of the convicts. He chooses a man called Ned because Ned reminds him of Rob, and after he has chosen another man, the man excitedly introduces himself as Dan Oldfield, Thornhill's childhood friend. Dan happily cries that London sends its regards, but Thornhill mildly tells Dan to call him Mr. Thornhill. Dan's face falls.
Thornhill's fear and shame at remembering his past leads him to be cruel to a man who was once a very kind friend. This shows the power of the new class system in Australia, and it shows Thornhill embracing it.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Thornhill realizes that, to men like the captain, he and Dan are one and the same, and he begins to understand that there's no future for the Thornhills back in London. He remembers how he himself avoided men who'd been to New South Wales as though they were diseased, and realizes that nobody would trust him to be honest. Further, his children would carry the same curse. He understands that the Hawkesbury River is the one place where everyone is equal and can forget their pasts.
This difficult realization shows Thornhill that the idea in his head of London as home is an idealized and unrealistic one. London won't allow the Thornhills to live in luxury, but will instead condemn them to continue suffering the consequences for Thornhill's theft. Again, it seems land ownership on the Hawkesbury is what will allow Thornhill to leave his crimes and his shame behind him.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
When Thornhill returns to the river with Dan and Ned, Sal insists that Dan call her Mrs. Thornhill. She uses fancy language she heard rich people use to tell him so. Thornhill wonders at the pleasure he experiences bullying Dan. He thinks that he didn't know he could be a tyrant, and gives Sal the gifts he brought from Sydney: an engraving of London Bridge and some chickens. Sal nearly cries at the engraving.
Sal's use of high English words mimics the way Thornhill spoke to the Aborigines in the field. Even if the language is foreign to Sal and not quite correct, Sal's newfound power as a mistress allows her to experiment with it without being laughed at.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
At breakfast the next morning, Thornhill watches Dan eye the cliffs and surrounding forest. He waits until Dan looks at him to say that the savages are out there, and he won't make it the 50 miles back to Sydney if he runs away. Thornhill then tells Dan and Ned to start building a lean-to at the back of the hut so they can sleep separately from the Thornhills. Ned soon shows that he's useless, and Dan struggles to chop wood and fight the flies in the hot sun. Finally, Dan pleads for a break, but Thornhill refuses. Dan looks for a moment like he's going to refuse to work, but finally turns back to his task. Thornhill strolls around in the shade with a flywhisk.
Thornhill learns that it's exceptionally easy to dehumanize people of a lower class. In doing so, he perpetuates the system of class violence that he was once, and continues to be, victimized by. Further, even though Thornhill certainly doesn't care what Dan was convicted for in England, he now becomes the person responsible for making sure that the English justice system does its job in the new colony. The tables have turned.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
That night, Dan and Ned crawl into the lean-to, and Thornhill notices that Sal is smiling. He tells her that they'll fix up the hut and she won't want to leave, and Sal laughs at the joke. They have sex, and Thornhill thinks that New South Wales is taking over and taking them in a new direction. Sal doesn't pinch the candle to save the wick for another day.
Sal's decision to not pinch the candle wick is again an indicator that the Thornhills are doing better than they ever have, since conserving supplies isn't a concern for them right now.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
When the hot weather starts, Sal's breasts become painful and baby Mary frets. Sal wakes one morning with hard breasts and a fever, so Thornhill fetches Mrs. Herring. Mrs. Herring insists that Sal must keep nursing and use poultices on her breasts. Thornhill worries Sal will die as she lies ill for days. He finally goes upriver to fetch a real surgeon, but the surgeon refuses to help. Thornhill knows it's because Sal is the wife of a felon. Finally, Sal asks Thornhill to bury her facing north towards London.
Despite the Thornhills' newfound power on the Hawkesbury, when Thornhill deals with other powerful individuals (like the surgeon), he's reminded that his life truly doesn't matter to anyone but himself and his family. To them, Thornhill is still a convict and undeserving of help. This again shows the cruelty of the upper classes.
Themes
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Their neighbors on the river bring gifts of food and alcohol, but Sal doesn't begin to look better until Blackwood arrives with jellied eels. The day after, Sal is sitting up when Thornhill wakes. She looks much better and asks Thornhill if they've been making the marks on the tree. Though Thornhill assures her they've been making them, he's disappointed that the marks were her first thought.
Sal still thinks of herself as a prisoner, even if she's an exceptionally well-cared for one. Thornhill's disappointment shows just how much of a shift he's undergone in how he thinks about New South Wales: the fact that Sal wants to leave this place that's offering him so much is heartbreaking for him.
Themes
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon