The red cliffs at the modern day City of Redcliffe, to the north of Brisbane, have witnessed many changes since Matthew Flinders landed there in 1799. In those days, the Ningy Ningy people of Redcliffe and Toorbul lived a traditional life, hunting and fishing as their forefathers had done before them for thousands of years. The first half of this novel describes their life.
Matthew Flinders noted the names of three of the people, Yelbah, Bomaringo and Yewoo and these are taken as the main characters in this book. Their lives changed in 1823 when they welcomed the three castaways, Thomas Pamphlett, Richard Parsons and John Finnegan, who had been blown off course in a storm. These men had been collecting cedar for the Sydney Penal Colony and were eventually thrown ashore at Moreton Island. After many privations, they arrived at present day Redcliffe where they lived with the Aboriginals of the Ningy Ningy clan for three months. Later they lived with the Joondoobarrie clan on Bribie Island where they were rescued by John Oxley in November of the same year.
The Red Cliffs is a historical novel which describes the interaction of the Ningy Ningy and Joondoobarrie people with these three castaways before they were rescued and when Pamphlett returned as a convict at the Moreton Bay
Penal settlement in 1827. The convicts were viewed as outcasts of their society, just as the tallabilla were outcasts of the Aboriginal society. The red cliffs were known as the cliffs of running blood, or Kau-in Kau-in, by the Aboriginal people and these cliffs witnessed the shedding of the blood of the convicts and of their people.