The Secret River was inspired by Grenville's desire to understand "what had happened when [her ancestor, Solomon] Wiseman arrived ... [on the Hawkesbury River at the area now known as Wiseman's Ferry] and started the business of 'settling'". Her inspiration to understand this came from her taking part in the 2000-05-28 Reconciliation Walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge during which she realised that she didn't know much about "what had gone on between the Aboriginal people and the settlers in those early days". Initially intended to be a work of non-fiction about Wiseman, the book eventually became a fictional work based on her research into Wiseman but not specifically about Wiseman himself.
The novel is "dedicated to the Aboriginal people of Australia: past, present and future".  Plot summary
After a childhood of poverty and petty crime in the slums of London, William Thornhill is sentenced in 1806 to be transported to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. With his wife Sal and children in tow, he arrives in a harsh land that feels at first like a death sentence. However, there is a way for the convicts to buy freedom and start afresh. Away from the infant township of Sydney, up the Hawkesbury River, Thornhill encounters men who have tried to do just that: Blackwood, who is attempting to reconcile himself with the place and its people, and Smasher Sullivan, whose fear of this alien world turns into brutal depravity towards it. As Thornhill and his family stake their claim on a patch of ground by the river, the battle lines between old and new inhabitants are drawn.
The early life of William...