Finally: Australian history sensitive to the destruction of an Indigenous culture 12

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As Australians, we love to bask in glorious deeds of the past as, I guess do all other countries, but we can be selective in our recollections and not always willing to examine all those stories. However, novels which engage us with that past are increasingly being written, published and appreciated.

I found Salt Creek, a novel by Fiona Treloar, to be a thoroughly engaging interpretation of Australia’s early settlement history.

Salt Creek is a property along the Coorong in South Australia, being developed by the Finch family in the 1850s. The family have fallen on hard times, through a series of unwise business decisions and are struggling to make a success of dairy farming. The story is narrated by Hester, one of the daughters. She has been well educated, able to discuss Darwin’s theories and the novels of the Brontes. She now finds herself a farm labourer, isolated from polite society. Her father will no longer accept help from his in-laws. The mother of the family has become withdrawn after this change and the deaths of two young children.

Hester yearns to escape from this drudgery. She finds hope in a traveller, the artist, Charles (based on historical figures) but further family tragedy limits her options. Throughout the narrative Treloar skilfully manages historical realities and fiction. The restrictions and difficulties of women and girls of the period is portrayed with empathy.

Fiona Treloar is uncomfortable with her own family’s part in the dispossession of the Indigenous people of the Coorong, the Ngarrarendjeri. While not basing her story on actual incidents Treloar gives a clear account of the dispossession, the cultural misunderstandings, and the personal traumas to both sides. This is played out in one of the major subplots. The unforeseen consequences of acting with the best intentions are clear as is the varying view of the colonisers to the Indigenous people. Treloar is quite clear in showing how attitudes varied then, as now. There are those who were able to see the Ngarrarendjeri as people who were simply different, not inferior.

This is a beautifully written book with strongly drawn characters. While we may understand that some of the characters are acting unwisely, we are able to understand. The evocation of the beautiful Coorong region Is powerful.

In some senses, this is a family saga, in some senses a romance. However, the sensitive handling of some very serious and current issues make this a very worthwhile reading experience.

Salt Creek, by Fiona Treloar – click here to purchase from Dymocks

Vivienne Beddoe

  1. Thank you for a great book review Vivienne, this is one book I will buy, my grandmother had a great passion for our Aboriginal people. She was born in the late 1800’s and wanted to be a missionary , but she met grandfather and married and had 2 children, and regretted not achieving her goal until the day she died. She baked and sent food parcels and knitted and sewed items and sent them to remote Aboriginal communities through out her long life, she lived to be 98 years old

  2. Australian do not want to know how barbaric they were to Indigenous people. If you ask most Australian what the “white Australia” policy was or when did we count Indigenous people into the census as human beings and let them vote. The “stolen generation” are adults now and would remember the horrors of being put into servitude and orphanages , yet we expect them to be grateful for the homes we herded them into and told them to integrate and be happy…Australia has a lot to be ashamed of and until we learn respect for our Indigenous culture then we will never understand the deeds done in the past.

    2 REPLY
    • I can’t speak for others but I am fully aware of what went on but I can say with certainty..thank God , my family had nothing to do with any atrocities that were committed. At the time that much of this was going on in the early days my family were trying to dodge the lash themselves, they were convicts. A great wrong has been committed to the Aboriginal people and for that I am very sorry

    • My proudest day as a white Australian was when Kevin Rudd gave the apology to the Aboriginals

  3. My great grand father never dispossessed any aboriginal people. One of my grandfathers best friends was a full blooded aboriginal. They lived at the foot of the Bunyas and often told stories of the days when the aboriginal people had their big bunya feasts there.

  4. Regarding aboriginals being able to vote, has anyone else read that they did have the vote in South Australia, but when Australia became a Federation, that right was taken from them. Apparently it was feared that because WA had too few white settlers the aborigines would outvote them, thus the repeal of their right to vote. I can remember being shocked to discover they didn’t have the right to vote and was really annoyed that I couldn’t vote to right that wrong in the 60s. (I was only 20 at the time)

  5. Another book that is well worth reading is “Wimmera Journeys” written by Anne Brown recently published. It tells both sides of the settlement story- based on the true life story of a young aboriginal boy.

  6. Thanks, Vivienne, a great review of an interesting book.
    We drove and walked the Coorong several times over the years. Loved it for what it was more than for what it became. Sadly, with man’s overuse of water, upstream, and successive periods of drought (El Nino with us once again), river flow is poor, Lake Alexandrina opens to the sea only with excavation and much of the lake area is now silted. It is to our eternal shame it was ever allowed to happen.
    I recently reviewed two books – An Improbable Friendship and The Lemon Tree – that look at the rights or otherwise of taking homeland from one people to pass on to another (in that case, Palestine/Israel).Of course, it is only a continuation of what we (the invading Anglos) did here to the Aborigines.
    I am keen to read Lucy Treloar’s book.

  7. Sounds like a good book to keep in mind for a future read. Unfortunately the past has happened we cannot change it, but can hopefully learn from it.

  8. Sounds good, another one for my ‘to read’ list 🙂

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