Staying in with Katherine Johnson

Paris Savages

When Lesley Crooks asked if I’d like to be part of the launch celebrations for Katherine Johnson’s new book I took one look at the description and knew it would be my kind of read. I’m delighted that Katherine has agreed to stay in with me to chat about the book, but I’m devastated I haven’t had chance to read it yet.

Let’s find out more:

Staying in with Katherine Johnson

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Katherine. 

Thanks, Linda. I’m delighted to be here. I hope you’re keeping well.

I am thanks and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

Paris Savages

I’ve brought Paris Savages, my most recent novel and one that is very timely given discussions about race and racism.

Isn’t it just? So, what can we expect from an evening in with Paris Savages?

I hope readers will be transported to another time and place, where they will be moved and enlightened about a little-known part of history and inspired by acts of bravery and strength. There are love stories, betrayals and shows of defiance.

This is historical fiction based on a true and incredibly stirring story about three Aboriginal people from beautiful Fraser Island, Australia, who were taken to Europe in the 1880s to perform for audiences in ‘human zoos’.

Goodness me. I had no idea this kind of thing happened.

Many indigenous peoples from around the world (35,000!) were transported and shown in this way. The three Badtjala people from Fraser Island were Bonny/Bonangera (18), Dorondera (15) and her uncle Jurano (22). NB the names are spelled variously in the archives. The novel is told from the perspective of Hilda, the fictional daughter of the German man who shipped the Aboriginal group to Europe.

Hilda is a witness to the trio’s journey and the audience’s reactions to the performances of boomerang and spear throwing, dancing and singing. There are relentless measurements by scientists, and Hilda’s relationship with her father, Louis, is tested. There are also moments of agency on the part of the performers. Above all else, Bonny wants to see Queen Victoria to protest the treatment of his people at home, where there have been massacres.

Hilda, a friend of Dorondera and Bonny, who she is forbidden to love, walks a path between naïve ‘saviour’, a role she begins to question, and complicit showperson. There are lessons learned, friendships tried, and loves lost and found.

Paris Savages sounds amazing and am important story to tell. 

It was an epic story to research and write, but one that moved me deeply and that I believe has great relevance now as society examines the historical sources of racism.

Sadly, I think you’re absolutely right Katherine. What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?


I’ve brought along some photographs I took on my research trip in Europe, following in the footsteps of the group. I started at the Hagenbeck Tierpark (thierpark) in Hamburg, Germany, where the group likely began their journey. The photograph shows the old site of the ‘tierpark’, now a primary school, and groups of performers atop elephants. There are no photos of the Aboriginal trio here, but a newspaper piece from the time reports that they were shown by Carl Hagenbeck.


What must Bonny, Dorondera and Jurano have made of the experience of performing in places such as this, or at the Dresden Zoo, where they were also shown? What did they make of the audiences looking on? We, of course, can never know, but it is important to ask such questions, for the history of ‘human zoos’ has been largely one-sided. Paris Savages sheds light on the silences and contests old stereotypes. I consulted with Badtjala representatives during the writing of the story and am grateful for their time and input.

What amazing photos Katherine. I’m sure you must be immensely grateful for input you had. I’m even more determined now to make sure I get round to reading Paris Savages. Thank you so much for staying in with me to tell me all about it. It sounds entertaining and important. Let me give blog readers more details:

Paris Savages

Paris Savages

‘A masterful work, fully realised and richly embroidered’ Alice Nelson, author of The Children’s House

Fraser Island, Australia 1882. The population of the Badtjala people is in sharp decline following a run of brutal massacres. When German scientist Louis Müller offers to sail three Badtjala people – Bonny, Jurano and Dorondera – to Europe to perform to huge crowds, the proud and headstrong Bonny agrees, hoping to bring his people’s plight to the Queen of England.

Accompanied by Müller’s bright daughter, Hilda, the group begins their journey to belle-époque Europe to perform in Hamburg, Berlin, Paris and eventually London. While crowds in Europe are enthusiastic to see the unique dances, singing, fights and pole climbing from the oldest culture in the world, the attention is relentless, and the fascination of scientists intrusive. When disaster strikes, Bonny must find a way to return home.

Published by Allison and Busby tomorrow, 23rd July 2020, Paris Savages is available for purchase in all the usual places, including directly from the publisher here.

About Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson lives in Tasmania with her husband and two children. She is the author of three previous novels and her manuscripts have won Varuna Awards and the Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Prizes. She recently completed a PhD, which forms the basis of her latest novel, Paris Savages.

You can find out more by visiting Katherine’s website and finding her on Facebook. You can also follow Katherine on Twitter @KJohnsonauthor.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Paris Savages twitter blog tour

3 thoughts on “Staying in with Katherine Johnson

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