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March 1797. Ninety Mile Beach, Victoria. Five British sailors and twelve Bengali seamen swim ashore after their longboat is ripped apart in a storm. The British penal colony at Port Jackson is 700 kilometres to the north, their fellow-survivors from the wreck of the Sydney Cove stranded far to the south on a tiny island in Bass Strait. To rescue them and save their own lives, they have no alternative. They set out to walk to Sydney. What follows is one of Australia’s greatest survival stories and cross-cultural encounters.

In From the Edge, award-winning historian Mark McKenna uncovers the places and histories that Australians so often fail to see. Like the largely forgotten story of the sailors’ walk in 1797, these remarkable histories—the founding of a ‘new Singapore’ in West Arnhem Land in the 1840s, the site of Australia’s largest industrial development project in the Pilbara and its extraordinary Indigenous rock art, and James Cook’s meeting with Aboriginal people at Cooktown in 1770—lie on the edge of the continent and the edge of national consciousness. Retracing their steps, McKenna explores the central drama of Australian history: the encounter between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians—each altered irrevocably by the other—and offers a new understanding of the country and its people.


From the Edge is striking in its ability to fold together the present and the past and illuminate the way in which so much of Australia’s Indigenous and local history has remained neglected

Bookseller + Publisher

McKenna's prose is crisp and powerful, his pace brisk. The first two chapters are especially gripping – you'll want to option the film right – but his greatest achievement is more profound. McKenna manages to shake white Australia's understanding of the landscape as a place to be valued for its wild, "natural" emptiness. Contemporary Australians often seek out remote places precisely to revel in the sense of being profoundly alone, but From The Edge is a potent reminder of why this emptiness should chill us. McKenna gives glimpses of a country brimming with life and activity, permeated by cultural meaning and profound knowledge.

The Saturday Paper

This is a book that will haunt your memory and ignite your dreams of what Australia once was and might yet become.

Ian McCalman

A rediscovery of history which offers possibilities of national understanding and rebirth.

Noel Pearson

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    October 3, 2016

    Miegunyah Press

    RRP $34.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
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    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    October 3, 2016

    Melbourne University Press Digital

    357 pages

    Online retailers

    • iBooks
    • Amazon Kindle
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    • eBooks
    • Google Play
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Awards and Recognition

  • NSW Premier's History Prize
    NSW Premier's History Prize
  • 2017
    CHASS Australia Book Prize
  • CHASS Australia Prize
    CHASS Australia Book Prize
  • Colin Roderick Award
    Colin Roderick Award

Also by Mark McKenna

Moment of Truth: History and Australia's Future: Quarterly Essay 69
Project Republic: Plans and Arguments For a New Australia
An Eye For Eternity
Australian Republicanism


Ned Kelly
The People Smuggler: The True Story of Ali Al Jenabi
The Bat
Down Under
The Fatal Shore
Guns, Germs And Steel
Are We There Yet?
Aristotle’s Way
The Cat with the Giant Story
Histories of Controversy
The Making of Australia
A History Of Australia (Volumes 1 & 2)
A Secret Country
Beersheba Centenary Edition
Songlines and Fault Lines
Into the Heart of Tasmania
Shooting the Picture
Private Lives, Public History
Hitler's First Victims