Indigenous playwright and novelist Julie Janson pens a groundbreaking account of early colonial Sydney from an Aboriginal perspective

Award-winning playwright and novelist Julie Jason’s Benevolence, out May 1, is a groundbreaking fictionalised account of the forced colonisation of Sydney from an Aboriginal perspective, and the culmination of years of deeply personal research into the hidden history of Janson’s father’s family.

Julie Janson’s career as a playwright began when she wrote and directed plays in remote Australian Northern Territory Aboriginal communities. She is now a novelist and award-winning poet. Julie is a Burruberongal woman of Darug Aboriginal Nation. She is co-recipient of the Oodgeroo Noonuccal Poetry Prize, 2016 and winner of the Judith Wright Poetry Prize, 2019. Her novels include The Crocodile Hotel, Cyclops Press 2015 and The Light Horse Ghost, Nibago 2018. Julie has written and produced plays, including two at Belvoir St Theatre – Black Mary and Gunjies, published by Aboriginal Studies Press 1996.

Spanning the years 1816–1843, Benevolence is set around the Hawkesbury River area, the home of the Darug people. The story is about Muraging, born in 1812. She is among the earliest Darug generations to experience the impact of British colonisation – a time of cataclysmic change and violence, but also remarkable survival and resistance. At an early age, Muraging is given over to the Parramatta Native School where she is handed a new name and schooled in the whiteman’s ways. Fleeing the school, she embarks on a journey of discovery and a search for a safe place to make her home. Her life is one of love and longing, punctuated by impossible choices and ambiguities as she faces the reality of living in two worlds.

Spanning several years, author Julie Janson interviewed countless Aboriginal people from the Sydney region and uncovered stories about her own Darug family along the Hawkesbury River.

I worked on my family history and found many birth, death and marriage certificates and some gaps. I discovered that most of my Aboriginal ancestors were illiterate and gave birth to illegitimate children, often with no records. However, a story began to form about my great-great-great-Grandmother Mary Byrnes and her struggle to survive after the invasion in the early 1800s. I wanted to recreate her journey along the Hawkesbury River.

I was also interested in the story about the first Aboriginal school in NSW: the Parramatta Native Institution. For a while I thought my ancestor was the Mary Margaret who appeared on the school lists beside Maria Locke (the first Aboriginal woman ever to be educated) in Sydney. I was mistaken. My ancestor never learned to read or write. She signed her name with an ‘x’.

Ultimately, however, I wanted to create an Aboriginal work that included the names and characters of the original Australians on the Hawkesbury River – those who hid out in plain view to survive. I wanted to honour and remember their struggle, Janson says.

Magabala Books Publisher, Rachel Bin Salleh, says, “I was hooked the instant I started reading Benevolence – on the strength of protagonist Muraging, her resilience and survival, and on Julie’s powerful depiction of a Darug experience of British colonisation – a time of profound devastation and upheaval. Magabala is thrilled to publish this compelling historical novel. ”

Benevolence is available to order now from, or online from your favourite bookshop or online bookseller.

Peter J Snee

Peter is a British born creative, working in the live entertainment industry. He holds an honours degree in Performing Arts and has over 12 years combined work experience in producing, directing and managing artistic programs & events. Peter has traversed the UK, Europe and Australia pursuing his interest in theatre. He is inspired by great stories and passionately driven by pursuing opportunities to tell them.

Peter J Snee

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