Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Australian fiction’

The Place on Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta

I loved The Place on Dalhousie by Australian author Melina Marchetta and was happy to re-meet some of the characters from her other novels, Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son. For those who haven’t read either, don’t be put off as The Place on Dalhousie also stands alone.

Rosie was assisting elderly people sheltering at the local hall during a flood crisis in a rural Queensland town when she met Jimmy, who was working with the State Emergency Service to rescue trapped people. Jimmy had only been in town for a week, stuck there after his beloved Monaro was stolen while he was at a service station. Rosie had been in town a little longer, abandoned by her no-good boyfriend who had taken all of her money when he left.

After the flood crisis ended Rosie returned to her home in Sydney. When she learned she was pregnant she phoned Jimmy and left a message telling him the news, but he lost his phone and didn’t get the message. Although he often thought about Rosie he didn’t have her contact details and didn’t try to contact her again.

The story restarted again a year or so after the flood, but this time it followed Martha, Rosie’s stepmother. Martha and Seb, Rosie’s father, had married less than a year after Rosie’s mother died of breast cancer and Rosie had been unable to forgive either of them so left home as a teenager, travelling to Italy to be with her grandmother then back to Australia where she lived with one loser boyfriend after another. Before Rosie and her father could reconcile, he died in a terrible accident.

When Martha’s section of the story began she was living downstairs while Rosie and the baby lived in the upstairs rooms of the house that Seb built. Neither woman was prepared to budge on the question of whose home it was.

Jimmy returned to Sydney after finding his phone and hearing Rosie’s message, a year too late, but although he wanted to see Rosie again he wasn’t convinced that he was the baby’s father. Jimmy was a good bloke, even though he had been brought up in a family who struggled with domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse. His friends worried that he might disappear from his son’s life if things became too difficult for him.

When Jimmy arrived he found Rosie to be suffering from post-natal depression and feeling isolated. The hostility between Rosie and Martha made their home a miserable place.

There was a cast of thousands in this book and sometimes I had trouble remembering where everyone fitted in with the story. At the beginning of Martha’s section, she had just reconnected with her High School friends with whom she formed a netball team (nothing has changed since I used to play, everyone wants to be a goal shooter or centre). Jimmy also had a large group of friends, many of whom were characters from Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son, and Rosie eventually made some friends too, from a mother’s group. Rosie and Martha’s Italian neighbours on Dalhousie Street also played a part in creating a story about what it means to be part of a family, a friendship groups and a community.

Breast cancer is another theme that ran through this story. Martha and Seb got to know each other in hospital as Martha’ mother, who also died from breast cancer, had become friends with Rosie’s mother while being treated for the disease. Martha and Rosie had in common the fear of what their own future with the disease held for them.

At times the character’s lives were so complicated and difficult that I didn’t know how they would resolve their issues, or even get their problems to a manageable level.

Jimmy and the baby and funnily enough, Jimmy’s stolen Monaro are the threads that eventually tied the family together.

I loved The Place on Dalhousie as much as I did Looking for Alibrandi and I’m sure that other Melina Marchetta fans will too.

My purchase of The Place on Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta went towards fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020 (September).

Bruny by Heather Rose

Bruny is a cracking read by Australian author Heather Rose. I wasn’t very far into this political thriller before I felt as if I couldn’t put the book down. Being kept exceptionally busy by my work when I wanted to read it was a torment.

The story is set in the near-future on Bruny Island off the coast of Hobart in Tasmania. When a six-lane bridge that the Tasmanian government was building from the mainland to Bruny Island with Chinese funding was bombed by an unknown perpetrator, the Tasmanian Premier, JC Coleman asked his twin sister Astrid, a mediator for the UN, to come home from New York to negotiate a truce between the various factions who were either for or against the bridge. To further complicate the Coleman family’s dynamics, Astrid and JC’s half-sister Maxine was the leader of the Opposition party.

Astrid’s first question was to learn why JC’s government were building a bridge to Bruny Island at all. Although the island’s population swelled during holiday times, the island only had around 600 permanent residents and was already well served by a ferry. Astrid met with various groups on and off the island, from birdwatchers to Friends of Bruny, business owners, as well as sea-changers and climate-changers who had more recently moved to the island from the Australian mainland. She also met with politicians from all sides of state and federal politics and with the bridge builders. Everyone had a different opinion about the bridge and the future of the island.

After the bridge was bombed JC brought in a contingent of Chinese workers to work on it with the aim of having the bridge completed in time for the next State Election, despite the use of Chinese labour being unpopular with his voters. Astrid was convinced by this time that there was a much bigger picture that she was missing although she continued to work to keep all parties calm while carrying out her investigations.

The use of Chinese capital to build this fictitious bridge was topical with so much current scrutiny on Australian states partnering with China in belt and road initiatives.

I liked the family dynamics in the story. Despite being on opposite sides of politics the Coleman family were generally loving and were genuinely trying to do their best for Tasmania in their political roles. The sibling’s father, who had also been a successful Tasmanian politician until his retirement, had recently had a stroke when the story began and was only able to communicate using Shakespearean quotes, while their mother, a deeply unpleasant woman, was undergoing cancer treatment. There were also a younger generation of the family who were uninvolved in the political side of the plot although they added to the personal story.

Astrid was a terrific lead character. She was middle aged with grown-up children, divorced, extremely successful in her career and very, very clever. There was a hint of romance for her with one of the more down-to-earth characters which I liked too. This was a very full story with political intrigue, family drama, conspiracies and huge problems for Tasmania, Australia and the rest of the world, with climate change driving everything. When I finally got to the plot’s reveal, I was genuinely shocked.

Bruny has a very strong sense of place. The story made it clear that Tasmanians see themselves as Tasmanians first and Australians second. The story also raised questions about how Australians from the mainland see Tasmania.

I enjoyed Bruny enormously and am very keen to read further novels by this author.

My purchase of Bruny by Heather Rose goes towards fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020 (August).

The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

The Drover’s Wife by Australian author Leah Purcell is an interesting spin on the classic Australia short story of the same name by Henry Lawson. I believe Leah Purcell originally created this story as a play which was very well regarded.

Henry Lawson’s version tells the story of a resilient woman alone with her young children as she waits to kill a snake which has disappeared under their outback hut.

In Leah Purcell’s version the heroine is named Molly Johnson. Molly, her four children and their dog, Alligator, live in a remote bush hut near the Snowy Mountains in the 1890s. Molly’s husband Joe is a drover and at the time of the story has been away droving cattle for several months. When the story begins Molly is heavily pregnant with her sixth child, although only four are living.

Molly’s lot in life is hard. Her mother died when she was born and although she was brought up by a loving father, when he was dying he arranged for her to marry Joe Johnson, who turned out to be a drunken bully and a philanderer. Life was easier for Molly when Joe was away droving for months at a time, even though she still had to deal with floods, snakes, threatening swaggies and starvation while suffering extreme poverty. Despite this, Molly’s love for her children and theirs for her made her hardships bearable.

Things become complicated for Molly when the new Sergeant from the nearest town unexpectedly visited and took the children to town with him so they could get supplies. While Molly was alone an Aboriginal man who has escaped custody for an alleged murder arrived just as she went into labour. Despite his kindness in helping her to deliver her stillborn baby Molly was frightened and wary of Yadaka, however she used an axe to remove the iron collar from his neck and allowed him to stay on the property until the full moon.

When Molly’s eldest son, Danny returned from town without the younger children Yadaka taught him about what it meant to be a man. At the same time, the new Sergeant had become worried about Molly and the whereabouts of her husband Joe.

The story covers some big topics, including what it meant to be an Aboriginal person at this time with no rights, no voice and no respect. Other issues included the removal of Aboriginal children from their families, domestic violence, rape and extreme poverty.

My enjoyment of the story was regularly interrupted by what I felt was the¬†wrong words and phrases being used. Early in the story Molly talked about her hormones, but I’m fairly sure that Australian bush¬†women in 1913 would not have even heard the word hormone, although how Molly was feeling as a result of them is timeless. Another example of a word choice that felt wrong to me was a reference to country to describe Yadaka’s connection to his family and his own area which felt too contemporary for this story. The character’s conversations didn’t always ring true either, for the same reasons.

I also didn’t like the idea of Molly and Yadaka’s sexual attraction to each other as I felt the timing was wrong. I don’t believe that a woman who has just given birth for the sixth time, let alone to a still-born child would feel anything like lust for any man, no matter how wonderful he might seem to her at another time.

So, while I thought the actual story was good and would love to see The Drover’s Wife performed as a play or even as a movie, the book wasn’t as good as it should have been. The author’s note at the end of the book says that she failed English at school and while this makes her achievements all the more remarkable, a harder edit would have improved the book.

Leah Purcell is a Goa, Gunggari, Wakka Wakka Murri woman from Queensland.

My purchase of The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell goes towards fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020 (July).

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

I was describing the plot of Boy Swallows Universe by Australian author Trent Dalton to Honey-Bunny, who said, “That sounds depressing.” I had to laugh, because the story I was describing did sound depressing, even though it isn’t. Despite all of the terrible things the narrator and his family endure Boy Swallows Universe is full of hope and joy. Not only that, the story is funny and clever and most surprisingly of all, based on the author’s own life.

The story starts in the mid 1980s with twelve year old Eli Bell who lives with his family in a rough Brisbane suburb. While Eli and his brother August’s drug-addicted mother and heroin dealing stepfather Lyle are out doing business the boys are babysat by Slim Halliday, the most infamous criminal to ever break out of Brisbane’s Boggo Road Jail. The family are poor, surrounded by violence and are prone to bad luck but they genuinely love and care for each other.

When gangster Tytus Broz caught Lyle making drug deals on the side of their own arrangement, his henchman dragged Lyle out of the family home never to be seen alive again. During the attack Eli’s mother was beaten up and Eli’s lucky forefinger with the freckle on the knuckle was chopped off. Eli woke up in hospital to learn that Tytus had arranged for their home to be raided by the police which caused his mother to be sent to jail for two years. Eli and August went to live with their alcoholic father in his Housing Commission house.

Elis and August are both extraordinary characters but August has a kind of magic about him. August is mute and writes his messages in the air for others to read. Some of his messages are prophecies which play out throughout the story.

Slim, who is based on a real person, is Eli’s best mate as well as his babysitter. He teaches Eli important life lessons, and put particular emphasis on Eli to learn to watch what is going on around him closely and to remember details. This trait becomes more and more important as Eli grows up and attempts to become a crime writer for Brisbane’s newspaper, The Courier-Mail.

I’m still not sure how this story about a family living in horrific conditions, who struggled with domestic violence, mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse, surrounded themselves with criminals and involved themselves in criminal activities also managed to be so joyful, but it is. The language the family use is when speaking is often profane but their love of reading is a joy to read about.

My only complaint about this story is that I thought the ending was implausible.

However, the writing in Boy Swallows Universe is poetic, the characters are enthralling, the story is fascinating and I loved it. Several weeks after our conversation a workmate gave a copy of Boy Swallows Universe to Honey-Bunny saying that it was the best book he had read during 2018. I’m really looking forward to hearing her opinion of the book.

My purchase of Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton goes towards fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020 (June).

The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club by Sophie Green

I enjoyed The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club by Australian author Sophie Green, which I randomly grabbed in a last-minute dash to my local library when COVID-19 was initially threatening to close the library down. My library has now been closed for three months. I’ve got a few more unread library books to get through before I move on to the massive pile of books in the pile of books that I own.

The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club was a more serious book than I initially expected it to be, although it would be fair to describe the story as ‘heart-warming’ so I imagine it would be filed under ‘women’s fiction,’ if there is still such a category. The story is set during the mid 1970s with most of the action taking place on an outback property about an hour’s drive out of Katherine in the Northern Territory. The stories of the five main characters are told alternately.

Kate was homesick for England when her mother-in-law, Sybil, came up with the idea of starting a book club. Sybil invited Sallyanne, a young mother of three children who she knew from the Katherine Country Women’s Association, also Della, a Texan who was working on a neighbouring station and Rita, a nurse with the Royal Flying Doctor Service who was based in Alice Springs to join the book club. Due to the large distances between their homes the book club only met once or twice a year.

The story reminded me of how limited women’s lives were during the 1970s. Sallyanne’s husband was an alcoholic, but she couldn’t financially afford to leave him and she was afraid of being judged adversely by her community if she were to become a single mother. Della was in love with an Aboriginal man but they had to hide their feelings because of the threat of him being beaten up or worse by anyone who might disapprove of their relationship. In contrast, as the white owners of Fairvale Station, Sybil and Kate had a high degree of autonomy in their lives, possibly because the men in their family allowed this. There were Aboriginal women living in a camp on the Station whose lives would have been very different to the white characters, but their existence was glossed over at a very high level.

The books which the characters read for their book club were also only touched on lightly. They read some fantastic Australian books, including The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin, Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay and The Harp in the South by Ruth Park as well as bestsellers from the time such as A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford and The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye. I would have liked to read a little more of the character’s opinions of these books, although these would not have contributed to the actual story at all. I was amused that this book ended with a series of questions about the book and the character’s motivations designed to be used for discussion by a book club.

The characters of The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club were a little stereotyped and there weren’t many surprises in the plot, however I enjoyed reading about the character’s friendships and the life of women in the Northern Territory during this time.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

I sat up until 3.30am to finish The Lost Man by Australian author Jane Harper. I was too tired the next day to do anything properly but it was worth it.

The Lost Man is set in a remote area of outback Queensland. The extreme heat and isolation are a dangerous combination, even before people are brought into the mix.

The story begins with Nathan Bright and his son Xander meeting Nathan’s youngest brother Bub at a lonely stockman’s grave on the boundary of their properties, an hour and a half drive away from each of their homes. Nathan and Bub are there to meet the police after the body of their middle brother, Cameron was found at the grave having apparently died from dehydration. Mysteriously, Cameron’s vehicle was found approximately ten kilometres away from the grave fully stocked with water and emergency supplies.

The story is told by Nathan, who had been acrimoniously divorced by Xander’s mother when Xander was very small. I felt sympathetic towards Nathan even after I learned that he had been guilty of one of the worst crimes in the outback many years ago, that of ignoring a stranded neighbour. Since then Nathan had been shunned by his entire community and had been living one of the loneliest, saddest lives imaginable.

Cameron was the golden child of the Bright family. He had been well liked and respected in the outback community, a successful farmer and was married to Ilse, who Nathan had fallen in love with first. Nathan had given up his relationship with Ilse in shame after he was barred from the town where she had been working in the pub.

In the time between Cameron’s death and his funeral, Nathan learned from other family members and staff at Cameron’s property that he had lately been worried for an unknown reason recently. Nathan and Xander began discreet investigations to find out what had been going on.

The other main characters include Nathan, Cameron and Bub’s mother, Cameron and Ilse’s two young daughters, an old man who had worked on the property since before Nathan was born and a couple of English backpackers who were working on the farm.

The mystery of what happened to Cameron wasn’t resolved until the very end of the book and it certainly kept me guessing, not to mention feeling anxious for Nathan and Xander’s wellbeing as I suspected everyone in this book of wishing them harm. The reasons for Cameron’s death were quite dark but the story was told with compassion and I have continued to think about these characters and their motivations for some time after having finished the book.

I’ve previously read The Dry and Force of Nature by this author and enjoyed both, but the trip to the outback in The Lost Man was truly gripping. I loved reading about the incredibly dangerous landscape and the people who choose to make their homes there. The little details were satisfying, even to the scars most of the characters carry from having skin cancers removed.

My purchase of The Lost Man by Jane Harper goes towards fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020 (May).

Goodwood by Holly Throsby

Goodwood, Australian author Holly Throsby’s first novel, is set in the type of small town I recognise. It’s a place where everyone knows everyone else and most of each other’s business. Neighbours generally watch out for each other but occasionally they ignore the plight of those who need protection. On the whole, Goodwood is a good place to live.

The story is narrated by 17-year old Jean who in 1992 was closely connected with most of the Goodwood community, including her fellow students, young adults, the town’s business people, her grandparent’s friends and the local policeman, Mack, who was also Jean’s cousin.

Jean knew 18-year old Rosie White, who disappeared from her bedroom in the middle of the night and she also knew Bart McDonald, the town’s charismatic and generous butcher, who went missing while fishing at the lake just a week after Rosie vanished.

Rosie and Bart’s disappearances were a mystery to everyone in Goodwood. In a town where no one ever locked their doors, Jean’s mother started locking Jean’s bedroom window at night. Mack, with the help of detectives from the next town over investigated Rosie’s disappearance but clues to her whereabouts were hard to find. The lake was searched after Bart’s boat was found floating alone, but his body wasn’t found either. Local gossips wondered if Rosie and Bart’s disappearances were connected.

Jean knew secrets about Rosie and Bart along with secrets she knew about other people, but initially didn’t think that what she knew was important enough to tell Mack. In many ways Goodwood is a coming of age story as Jean contends with growing up. Her best friend seems the most likely of their classmates to become a teenage mother as she enjoys her first sexual experiences with a boy from their class, while another boy is keen on Jean. As a foursome, Jean, her best friend and the two boys cruised around town, got drunk and generally messed around, as their families and community watched from a distance.

I enjoyed how small-town Australian this book felt. I felt comfortable in Goodwood and recognised the people in the Bowlo, locals at the pub, neighbours down the street and friends and family at Nan’s house. Sadly, I also knew who belted their wife and children and that no one would do anything, because that would be interfering in someone else’s business. I knew who had a gambling problem, and most importantly, who to avoid because they were creepy.

While it didn’t spoil the book in any way for me, I guessed how things would turn out for the missing characters long before the story disclosed the answers, although there were still a few surprises. I felt satisfied that some of the characters got was coming to them and frustrated with others who wouldn’t help themselves, which is a bit like in real life, really. The ending for Jean and a new friend left me feeling intrigued with what Jean’s future might hold.

I did feel as if Goodwood could have done with a prune. Some sections dragged and other parts had nothing to do with the story. There were also too many characters to keep a track of, many of whom didn’t need to be in the story.

However, on the whole I enjoyed Goodwood, and liked the characters, the place and the time the story was set. Holly Throsby, who is also a songwriter and musician, has since published another novel, Cedar Valley, which I expect to read and enjoy in future.

Border Districts by Gerald Murnane

I chose to read Border Districts by Gerald Murnane without knowing anything about the book or the author, save that he was Australian and so fitted in with my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020. The gorgeous cover tempted me, too.

My copy notes that Border Districts was a finalist for the 2018 Miles Franklin Literary Award and the winner of the 2018 Prime Minister’s Literary Award.

Not knowing what to expect from the book was probably a blessing. When I began reading Border Districts I thought it was a thinly-disguised autobiography, a trip through the author’s meandering mind and even now I’ve finished I’m still not certain that this story (or report, as the narrator calls it) was fiction. I couldn’t find a plot.

It took me some time to warm to the narrative style, too. About half way through the book I complained to He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers (who isn’t a reader and doesn’t understand my need to read but who thankfully accepts me as I am) that the book was hard work, the ideas were too clever for me, there was no story and that the narrator was doing my head in with his obsessive circling around and around certain topics, but when I went back to the book after my whinge it was as if by voicing all of my complaints I was able to let them go and allow myself to appreciate how clever the author’s ‘dog with a bone’ style of building on themes was. Soon after, I also became aware of the beautiful, lilting quality of the words.

The narrator lives in a small, unnamed town in the Wimmera in far western Victoria. He often refers to areas, towns and cities without ever naming them. Some clues were obvious, such as the “town named for its closeness to the border” which must surely be Bordertown in South Australia, or the description of a home built from sandstone from “a certain district in the far south-east of her state” which I think must be built of Mount Gambier stone, but I’m still uncertain of other places that were described but not named. I imagine readers from Murnane’s actual home town in the Wimmera enjoyed this guessing game.

When I read sections aloud the writing reminded me of the patterns in the nursery rhyme, This is the House that Jack Built. The narrator, who is an elderly man, has a repetitive style of going over and around and over and around his thoughts, memories and imaginings which reminded me of the repetitions in the nursery rhyme. Certain words are used and re-used, sometimes several times in a single sentence. Some sentences were nearly a page long.

The narrator’s memories were often triggered by stained glass. When he talked about stained glass he told what he had been thinking about or remembering when he had looked through particular pieces. Marbles, horse-racing, school readers and other items which also triggered his memories turned up again and again in the narrative, often long after when I thought the narrator would be finished with them.

I had to laugh when the narrator had a whinge about another author, one who he said “spoke rapidly and somewhat elliptically, so that afterwards I struggled to recall all that she had said, let alone to comprehend it.”

I went from intensely disliking this book to loving it, but don’t ask me to tell you what it was about because I have no idea. I’m planning to re-read Border Districts with the hope of being enlightened and I’m also quite keen to try something else by Gerald Murnane.

My purchase of Border Districts by Gerald Murnane goes towards fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020 (April).

Red Can Origami by Madelaine Dickie

Madelaine Dicki, the author of Red Can Origami, isn’t afraid of taking on big, controversial subjects. Racism. Uranium mining. Native title claims and the dispossession of traditional owners. Massacres and sacred sites. Foreign ownership in Australia. Life in a remote area. Biggest of all, the ongoing and devastating social issues which plague Australia’s indigenous people.

First of all, a warning on something else which many readers find off-putting. Red Can Origami is written in the second person tense. I dislike this tense so much that I generally don’t read stories which use it. To this author’s credit, I was no longer noticing the tense by the second page of this story and on reflection, think the tense added to the success of the story-telling.

The lack of grammar and the punctuation style is a little off-putting too, but as per the tense, I eventually became used to both and stopped noticing them.

The story follows Ava, a journalist in her mid-twenties who has moved from Melbourne to Gubinge, a remote town in the Kimberley region of Western Australia to work on a rural newspaper. After three months in Gubinge Ava was in love with the place, despite the racism she noticed towards Aboriginal people. Sometimes the racism was casual, at other times it was vicious and on occasion, life threatening. Ava’s social life was all about fishing and drinking. The only thing she had to watch out for were crocodiles and her boss, Jeff, who was waiting for her to slip-up.

When Ava was sent to cover the story of a two-year old child who was taken by a crocodile, she found a group of Aboriginal women grieving by a creek. One of the Burrika women spoke to Ava about the tragedy for her story.

-Your mum, dad, sister, husband, you can lose them, y’know? But not your child.

Despite the respectful way which Ava wrote the story in accordance with cultural protocols, Jeff rewrote the story in a sensational style and published it with a photo of the child, in direct opposition to the family’s wishes.

Soon after the publication of the story of the child’s death, Ava saw earth moving equipment on land which fell under the Burrika native title claim and knew there was a story in it. She contacted Gerro Blue, a Japanese mining company but was fobbed off, but later the owner, a charismatic Japanese man, flew Ava to Perth and offered her a job as the Aboriginal liaison officer for the uranium mine they intended to build on the site. Ava took the job, which paid far better than her newspaper job had, justifying to herself that she would do the best that she could for the Burrika community.

Ava got to know and fell in love with a Burrika man Noah, who was estranged from his wife. Noah was representing the Burrika people in their negotiations with Gerro Blue, despite the families who made up the Burrika mob not being united in what they hoped to achieve. The entire Gubinge community were divided in their opinions about the mine too. Greenies actively protested against the mine and warned of the potential for an environmental disaster, while other locals knew that there would be jobs and a flow of money from the mine which would benefit the whole town. While Noah didn’t want the mine either, he and the Burrika people knew that despite their wishes the mine would be built and heartbreakingly, that they needed to get whatever financial and social benefits they could by coming to an agreement with Gerro Blue.

Ava was out of her depth in her role with Gerro Blue. The following conversation, which Ava had with a Burrika woman made me cringe.

-I was with Burrika mob yesterday. Burrika just got native title. It means the country’s yours. You can fish, hunt, do whatever you want on country.

Even as the words leave your lips, you’re wishing you could stuff them back in. The woman regards you with something like hatred.

-Manga, she says, The country’s always been ours. No piece of paper’s gunna change that.

I found Red Can Origami to be enormously thought-provoking.

As I was reading this story I began thinking of the place I grew up, somewhere which is always in my heart. I don’t own any land there and never have although my family once did. Most likely I will never live there again, but this place is where feel that I belong. The sea, the beaches, the rock pools, the sand dunes, the little tracks along the cliff tops, the river, the bush, the swamps and the paddocks are so entrenched in my heart that I can empathise with Aboriginal people who on top of all that I feel for the place I where grew up, also have their histories, religions and laws tied up in their connections to country.

I’m really excited to read other books by Madelaine Dickie.

The Girl in the Painting by Tea Cooper

The Girl in the Painting is the first book I’ve read by best-selling Australian author Tea Cooper.

The story follows a young orphan, Jane Piper, who is a mathematical genius. Jane was educated and brought up by a rich brother and sister in Maitland, NSW in the early 1900s.

When Jane’s benefactor, Miss Elizabeth Quinn, had a mental breakdown at a local exhibition, Jane began investigating the cause of her reaction to a painting in the gallery.

The story flips back and forwards in time from around 1850, when Elizabeth sailed to Sydney with her brother Michael to meet their parents who had emigrated to Australia before them, to the present day story which is in 1913. Some of the scenes are set on the goldfields and others in newly settled towns. At the time Sydney was a rough and tumble place.

I was intrigued by Elizabeth’s early romance with a Chinese man, Jing, who worked for her brother. Michael separated Elizabeth and Jing very quickly when he realised they loved each other.

The characters were strong and the story-telling is good, but I felt as if the story was too long, possibly because historical sagas aren’t my preferred style of reading. I will however pass this book on to my mother and I expect she will enjoy it enormously. Mum loves books by Kate Morton and The Girl in the Painting had a similar feel about it to Morton’s books.

My purchase of The Girl in the Painting by Tea Cooper goes towards fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020 (March)

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