The Murchison Murders
[& other essays]
by Arthur W. Upfield

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

includes essays —
  "The Murchison Murders", circa 1934
  "Patrolling the World's Longest Fence", 1935
  "An Australian Camel Station", 1935
  "Trapping for Fur", 1935

Dennis McMillan Publications
Miami Beach, Florida; 1987

90 pages; 2 photos, map April 2006

A murder too well devised

There is one true-life murder-mystery in this collection, and three shorter essays about dealing with animals, all in the Australian Outback around 1930. These can be read as factual background to Arthur Upfield's long series of novels about Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (Bony to his friends), or read for standalone enjoyment.

First, the murderer. Somewhat more than half of The Murchison Murders is the title essay. While working at a Government Camel Station in Western Australia, Upfield also was researching and writing a novel which became The Sands of Windee. A challenge that Upfield had set for himself was to devise an ideal method of disposing of a dead body, tracelessly. He talked with co-workers and other experts of Outback ways and techniques, gathering suggestions from all sorts of folk for a method that seemed reasonable and workable in the wide empty interior of Australia, by just such people as themselves. Eventually, Upfield and his friends came up with a plan that could fit well in his mystery novel.

And someone overheard them, and used the procedure for real. Naturally, the police developed some interest in all this. While there is some fine detail in The Sands of Windee, it's an early Inspector Bonaparte novel, and I think poorer in characterization than Upfield's best. But taken together with "The Murchison Murders", it's quite an example of nature imitating art.

Fun & work with camels & rabbits

On to the camels and rabbits. In "Patrolling the World's Longest Fence" and "An Australian Camel Station", Upfield describes working with camels in some almighty empty country. These essays are not surveys or histories, but accounts of Upfield's personal experience. I wish they were longer. There are photos of a pair of camels, and of Upfield's government wagon which they pulled on the lonely, regular patrol along a segment of rabbit fence.

The fourth essay, "Trapping for Fur", is about rabbits and how men can profit from the lemming-like avalanche of the small but fur-bearing critters that descends, in the dry season and fast-drying conditions, upon isolated waterholes and dwindling creeks. The Bone Is Pointed is an excellent Bony novel with good rabbity scenes. When they talk rabbits in Australia, they likely mean a lot of rabbits, not stretched-out dotted traplines but heaping fencefuls of rabbits.

So all of this dry-country, dry-creatures, dry-inhabitants material in this little book is sandy grist for Upfield's novelistic mill. But The Murchison Murders also is fun and excellently informative all by itself.


© 2006 Robert Wilfred Franson

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