#AWW2016 Review – Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko

Mullumbimby

 

“Circles protect you, if you let them, girl. But you gotta let ’em. Gotta not get in their way.”

After a divorce, Jo has enough cash to go halves in 20 acres of land with her brother, land that is located in the valley where her Indigenous ancestors once lived. She sets about rebuilding her life: raising a thirteen year old daughter alone, and working at the local cemetery mowing lawns and trimming shrubs.

“Spend enough time among the silent majority, Jo discovered, and you found yourself worrying less about tomorrow, and more about today. There are so many tomorrows, after all. How could a person keep track of them all?”

She recalls conversations from her Auntie, who tried to teach her the ways of the land and the spirits, and particularly of dadirri, a way of deep listening. But just as things seem to be falling into place for her, who should turn up but a hot, dark-skinned, dreadlocked fellow by the name of Twoboy. The attraction is mutual, and Jo learns that Twoboy has put in a native title claim for the land along the valley where her home is. Though Twoboy grew up in Queensland his great-grandfather  belonged to the Bundjalung nation, the Valley where Jo’s property is located. The trouble is, Twoboy has competition from local Indigenous folk who did grow up in the area (though their ancestors were from other Aboriginal nations), and who are doing everything in their power to block Twoboy’s claims.

This was such a beautiful story about love, and triumph over adversity, and finding help in the most unexpected of places.

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#AWW2016 Review – Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven

Heat and Light

I got to hear Ellen van Neerven speak about her book, as well as many other issues faced by Indigenous people today, at the Tamar Valley Writers Festival just a few weeks ago.

Though Ellen’s book, ‘Heat and Light’, is presented as a collection of short stories, she said many people see it as a novel. It’s comprised of three sections – the first two are longer stories following the same story – though the first section it is told by many different characters, while the second follows one character in particular – followed by a collection of shorter tales in the third section of the book.

While I enjoyed all of the stories (though I did get a little frustrated at an unfinished storyline in the last part of the book), it was the second part,  ‘Water’ that really struck a chord with me. Set sometime in the future, this story tells of Kaden, a young Aboriginal woman  who has been employed to liase with the ‘Sandplants’ or ‘Plantpeople’, a recently discovered species of plant that has many human characteristics, including human-like faces, and the ability to unroot themselves from the soil and walk around. Kaden’s job is to convince these plantpeople to give up the islands that are their homes, so that the land can be remade into a new home for Aboriginal people whose land was taken from them. Seen as plants, and therefore not human, the company that employs Kaden, along with many others, do not see the problem in removing these beings from their home.

But as Kaden gets to know the plantpeople in general, and one in particular, she sees that they are more than just plants, and ends up in a relationship with one.

At the festival, Ellen had a bit to say about this story. Many say it is fantasy, speculative, a myth. ‘Speculative’ is a word Eleen was happy with, for the story speculates a possible future, but as she points out, ‘myth’ is a convenient word when discussing Aboriginal stories. It is a word that suggests old, ancient stories. But the stories of the Aboriginal people are held in the land, they’re still there, they’ve always been there. And (I’m aware I’m generalising here, I hope I can be forgiven) the spirits of these stories are as real to the Aboriginal people who hold those stories as they’ve ever been.

I really cannot recommend this book enough, and I desperately hope Ellen is writing more along the lines of her ‘Water’ story. I’ll certainly be keeping my eye out for more of her work.

#AWW2016 Review: Purple Threads by Jeanine Leane

Purple threads

 

 “I couldn’t tell them I wanted to be white then. But if I was white I’d see myself everywhere. In the classroom, when I opened up a book or looked at a picture. In the crowded playground, laughing, skipping and jumping between elastics. Down the main street in town. Or on the movie screen. I’d not stand out from the rest. But … Black? Too hard. Too ugly. Too different.”

It’s every child’s worst nightmare – to be different, picked on by the other kids at school, out of place. It leads so many children to change themselves, pretend to be like everyone else, hide their differences.

But what if you can’t hide the thing that makes you different? What if its the colour of your skin? And what if being picked on and singled out continues beyond the school years and throughout adulthood?

This is the experience of Sunny and her sister, Star, raised by their Nan and Aunties, who are constantly on the alert; cautious of the police who may come to take the children away, all too aware of how easy it might be to loose everything simply due to prejudice and bigotry.

There was so much to love about this story (despite my somewhat depressing opening here) :); the fantastic relationship between Sunny and her Nan and Aunties;  and Petal, the mother who comes and goes, and behaves more like a teenage sister than a mother, most times. Reading this story was like listening to my grandparents yarn about the old days, and as with them I learnt a bit of history while I was at it, including the shameful ‘forgetting’ of two Aboriginal men; Yarri and Jacky-Jacky,  who saved residents of Gundagai during a heavy flood, and received absolutely no reward or recognition for it, while the ‘Dog on the Tuckerbox’ has a statue all his own.

 

 

 

#aww2016 Book Review – The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Ashala Wolf

 

This is my first book review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016.

I recently discovered The Tribe series by Ambelin Kwaymullina, starting with The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf.

What a brilliant story!

It reminded me of Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn (another favourite of mine). Set in a post-apocalyptic world a young girl with special powers has to face a machine which threatens to reveal the secrets that keep her loved ones safe.

In this instance, however, the main character, Ashala Wolf, is a young aboriginal girl  – though in this world notions of race no longer have any real meaning:

“…there were different peoples, different “races”. Ember had told me about it, once – how things like my skin not being the same colour as hers, or the way Pen’s eyes were almond shaped, used to mean something. After the end of the old world,when there were so few humans left, everyone stopped worrying about things like that.”

Ashala Wolf leads a tribe of ‘Illegals’, children with special powers: Rumblers, who can create earthquakes; Skychangers who can cause lightning strikes, Firestarters who can – yep – start fires. It’s Ashala’s aim to not only protect her tribe, but also to shut down a detention centre where Illegals are being kept and interrogated.

There was so much to love about this story:

I loved the animistic world-view – everything has a spirit in this story, and a memory – from the Tuarts – great gums that remember the time before ‘the Reckoning’, to the machine itself – a device that carries the spirit of a playful puppy, though it has been collared and chained as Ashala has, and put to less playful purposes.

I loved the presence of the Rainbow Serpent – “I stood trembling as the massive snake slid upwards, it’s pale blue scales shimmering with rainbows in the light” – who tells Ashala: “I am your many times grandfather, one of the creators of your people” and who travelled the land after the Reckoning, collecting all the bits of life and remaking them.

‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’ is well written, and had me hooked from the first line. I’m really looking forward to getting onto the next books in this series: ‘The Disappearance of Ember Crow’, and ‘The Foretelling of Georgie Spider’. Highly recommended!