The Winter Road: A Killing at Croppa Creek

Kate Holden

The Winter Road: A Killing at Croppa Creek
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The Winter Road: A Killing at Croppa Creek

Kate Holden

July 2014, a lonely road at twilight outside Croppa Creek, New South Wales: 80-year-old farmer Ian Turnbull takes out a .22 and shoots environmental officer Glen Turner in the back.

On one side, a farmer hoping to secure his family’s wealth on the richest agricultural soil in the country. On the other, his obsession: the government man trying to apply environmental laws.

The brutal killing of Glen Turner splits open the story of our place on this land. Is our time on this soil a tale of tragedy or triumph - are we reaping what we’ve sown? Do we owe protection to the land, or does it owe us a living? And what happens when, in pursuit of a legacy, a man creates terrible consequences?

Kate Holden brings her discerning eye to a gripping tale of law, land and inheritance. It is the story of Australia.

Review

There is a type of true crime book that surpasses others in the genre due to its literary merit and unique approach to the subject. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Helen Garner’s Joe Cinque’s Consolation are all excellent examples. Now we have a new addition to the list – The Winter Road, the long-awaited return to a full-length book by Australian writer Kate Holden.

On 29 July 2014, the sun was setting on Talga Lane, near Croppa Creek in northwest New South Wales. Glen Turner (a compliance officer with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage) and a colleague were visiting the area where they would meet farmer Ian Turnbull the next day. Although Glen Turner had not seen Ian Turnbull for two years, they had a history regarding Ian’s non-compliance of land clearing, resulting in a verbal threat from Turnbull. Suddenly a car pulled up and Ian Turnbull emerged with a rifle. Six shots later, Turner was dead.

The Winter Road takes the horrific crime at Talga Lane as the starting point to a larger examination of Australia’s relationship with the land, and the crimes, conflicts and dilemmas it has produced ever since European invasion. It is also the starting point of many questions. Does owning land give someone the right to break down ecosystems and create loss or extinction of native flora and fauna? How do we find the right balance (and timing) between production and preservation of land? And finally, as we try to introduce new methods and strategies towards environmental regeneration, what support and guidance do landowners and those overseeing compliance need to implement them? Holden explores these issues through her meticulous research; including references to Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, Charles Massy’s Call of the Reed Warbler, the work of artist Shaun Tan and marine biologist Daniel Pauly’s fascinating ‘shifting baseline syndrome’.

After I had finished The Winter Road, I was emotionally and mentally exhausted, but it was worth it. This is essential reading by one of Australia’s finest nonfiction writers.


Amanda Rayner is a bookseller for Readings Carlton.

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