On a Bright Hillside in Paradise

Annette Higgs

On a Bright Hillside in Paradise
Random House Australia
18 July 2023

On a Bright Hillside in Paradise

Annette Higgs

From the winner of the 2022 Penguin Literary Prize.

Told from five different points of view, each one revealing a little more of the story, On a Bright Hillside in Paradise, tells the story of a family of convict descendants in the back-blocks of Tasmania, on a farm in a place called Paradise. They lead hard-scrabble lives. The drama begins when strangers arrive, Christian Brethren evangelists who hold big revival meetings in local barns.

It tackles big questions of faith and family but is always grounded in the dreams and strivings of its beautifully drawn characters. Higgs takes lives that history might have judged as small and imbues them with immense dignity and complex and compelling inner lives.

Avoiding the myth of the ‘frontier pioneer’ On a Bright Hillside in Paradise instead shows how these convict descendants wanted nothing more than to retreat to the bush to heal from their trauma, developing a deep love of the landscape in the process. It portrays characters unique to the Van Diemonian back-blocks who preferred the bush to the town-and still do.

At its heart the novel is about a close-knit community, and home-making in the bush. Despite injuries, losses, deaths, and near-starvation the family survives.


In her Penguin Literary Prize- winning debut novel, Annette Higgs does not shy away from the shameful colonial history of atrocities perpetrated against the First Nations peoples of lutruwita (Tasmania/Van Diemen’s Land). However, the tightly circumscribed focus of her novel is a tiny 1870s community mostly made up of convict-descended families on the Kentish Plains in North West Van Diemen’s Land, as it was then known to the real community of the time, upon which several of the novel’s characters are based. Within this small and isolated society there are also families with members who have a much longer and deeper connection to the land, but in this period, not long after the ‘collisions’ (as they are euphemistically termed by one of the central characters), this is known but seldom mentioned.

On a Bright Hillside in Paradise is a sympathetic portrait of a hard-scrabble life – its joys, its hardships, and the many decisions and calculations of each day that may mean the difference between life and death. To let the fire go out risks death by freezing, but in rough wooden homes with wooden chimneys, the fire itself is also a constant danger. Even on the hungriest of days, when the meat has run out, there are no rabbits to be had and all that is left is cabbage broth, there is friendship, companionship, and love, but death is also a familiar visitor.

The story begins when two other visitors arrive – strangers from Scotland and England – who bring with them the surprisingly contagious religious fervour of the Christian Brethren. Excitement quickly spreads around the district, to such an extent that one of the farmers offers their barn for an evening meeting at which the strangers can preach to all the locals. What initially seems a one-off, entertaining diversion from the hard work of farming soon escalates and has the district, and even families, divided by questions of faith and salvation.

Higgs delivers this tale from five distinct perspectives (one after another) and all are members of the same family – grandmother, mother, and several of the older children. Evangelism contributes to the tensions growing within this mostly loving family, but it is not the sole cause, which makes the changing viewpoints a point of interest rather than a distraction. On a Bright Hillside in Paradise is a memorable and somewhat melancholy novel that will appeal to fans of Kate Grenville.

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