Maverick Life

BOOK Review

‘Ghosts of the Past’: A galloping tale of horses, hidden gold, genocide and skullduggery

‘Ghosts of the Past’: A galloping tale of horses, hidden gold, genocide and skullduggery
'Ghosts of the past' by Tony Park

In Ghosts of the Past, Tony Park has produced a riveting novel inspired by the life of Edward Presgrave, a renegade Australian who traded guns and horses and fought with the Nama people of Namibia against a German colonial regime bent on genocide.

Australian writer Tony Park has set his latest novel in Namibia, South Africa and his native Australia. It is an historical work of fiction that jumps back and forth between the early 20th century and the present. This is a technique that can sometimes fall flat, but in Park’s seasoned hands it kept this reviewer turning the pages.

This is a work of fiction so no plot spoilers, beyond a mention of the fascinating historical circumstances that inspired it. Edward Presgrave was an Australian who fought with two irregular units in the Anglo-Boer war and then decided to remain in the Cape Colony. And the trajectory of his career would remain irregular to say the least.

Presgrave would go on to support the Nama uprising against German colonial rule in what is now Namibia that was led by the charismatic Jakob Morengo, dubbed the “Black Napoleon”. He traded and supplied horses and guns to the Nama, and also fought with them until he was shot and left to die in the burning sand in 1905. For a flavour of his life and the role he played in the fight against a brutal colonial campaign in Africa, check this piece in The Conversation.

The German campaign, which featured concentration camps, forced labour, and outright massacres of civilians, would see the Herero nation’s population fall from around 80,000 in 1903 to 15,000 five years later, while the Nama’s population of 20,000 would be reduced to 9,500.

Park has done a service to history by bringing the tale of Presgrave and the horrors that unfolded in Namibia to a wider audience. The result is a riveting read that one could easily envision being adapted for the big screen – screenwriters take note. It has swashbuckling adventure, romance, big critter attacks on humans, and hidden treasure. It has an ecological mystery about the origins of Namibia’s feral horses. And it is a grim reminder of the genocidal intent of the Kaiser’s henchmen in Africa that some historians say presaged the Holocaust. DM/ML


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