Salt Creek – Lucy Treloar
I can’t think of when I first heard of this novel – a review in The Australian perhaps? It has been short listed for the Miles Franklin award, so I might have read about it in that context.
Here is the blurb
Some things collapse slow, and cannot always be rebuilt, and even if a thing can be remade it will never be as it was.
Salt Creek, 1855, lies at the far reaches of the remote, beautiful and inhospitable coastal region, the Coorong, in the new province of South Australia. The area, just opened to graziers willing to chance their luck, becomes home to Stanton Finch and his large family, including fifteen-year-old Hester Finch.
Once wealthy political activists, the Finch family has fallen on hard times. Cut adrift from the polite society they were raised to be part of, Hester and her siblings make connections where they can: with the few travellers that pass along the nearby stock route – among them a young artist, Charles – and the Ngarrindjeri people they have dispossessed. Over the years that pass, an Aboriginal boy, Tully, at first a friend, becomes part of the family.
Stanton’s attempts to tame the harsh landscape bring ruin to the Ngarrindjeri people’s homes and livelihoods, and unleash a chain of events that will tear the family asunder. As Hester witnesses the destruction of the Ngarrindjeri’s subtle culture and the ideals that her family once held so close, she begins to wonder what civilization is. Was it for this life and this world that she was educated?
I have been suggesting this novel to a lot of people – I found it extremely interesting from a historical point. Despite being Australian (an educated in Australia), I know very little about interactions between indigeneous australians and early (mostly white) settlers. I found it fascinating particularly how the settlers usually bring disease and disaster with them (although they feel they are ‘civilising the natives’).
There is a menacing feel to this novel – we know something happens because Hester (who is narrating the story) is living in England. The family structure is destroyed and they scatter to various parts of the globe. The scenes set in the Coorong are the best – you can feel the isolation, the coldness and the threat of brutality as well as the beauty of an (originally) unspoiled landscape.
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