Convict Valley: The Bloodshed Behind the Hunter Valley’s Famous Vineyards

[by Yvette Gilfillan]

Image: supplied

The Hunter Valley is an easy place to like. Newcastle’s long, sweeping beaches embrace the city; the harbour is the new backdrop for restaurants, bars and cafes.


Go inland and you come to the region’s famous vineyards. Rolling hills have been landscaped for more than a century. For many, this is the Hunter Valley. But the manicured lawns and ordered landscapes hide the struggles, violence, triumphs and failures of the colonial frontier on which they are built.


It was the second British penal settlement in Australia—a notoriously violent convict regime that became the template for penal stations in other states. Men and women were banished here as labourers.


The Aboriginal clans who had lived for tens of thousands of years in the fertile valley were uprooted, and forced to fight back against the relentless march of settlement. Yet, the dark underside of the early years in the Hunter is not widely known—or at least, not openly acknowledged.


Mark Dunn, public historian and former chair of the Professional Historians Association of NSW and ACT, is descended from convicts who settled in the Hunter. He has spent two decades investigating the history of the region, uncovering the brutal side of the British settlement and a long-forgotten massacre.


While there were some instances of alliances in the early years, in the later scramble for land in the 1820s, tensions rose and bloodshed ensued. The Convict Valley uncovers the rich colonial past behind the prosperous vineyards of today’s Hunter Valley, and the toil of the convicts who laid its foundations. It is impeccably researched, and a fascinating new Australian history classic for the ages.


“Mark Dunn’s The Convict Valley is a finely detailed and meticulously researched study of the Hunter Valley. Interweaving its Aboriginal, convict and mining past, Dunn reveals the missing and misunderstood complexities of these histories as a gifted storyteller. It is a must read.” - Professor John Maynard, The University of Newcastle


“In this groundbreaking book, Mark Dunn shows how the Hunter Valley became the heartland of convict Australia.” - Professor Lyndall Ryan, author of Tasmanian Aborigines


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