Kim Scott is a Western Australian, with an Anglo father and a Nyungar mother. His novel is part fiction, part self-exploration as he moves his character Billy Storey, a teacher, and his wife up into a remote Aboriginal mission in far north Western Australia. Billy has not explored his heritage on his mother’s side up until this point so the novel is a navigation into his true place of belonging. We enter this world, which is utterly cut off from the main, and get to know the kids and their parents. The white staff at the mission are often bigoted, sometimes sympathetic but at all times other to the Indigenous population of this township, Karnama.
You might stay that way, maybe forever, with no world to belong to and belong to you. You in your high places, looking over looking over, waiting for a sign. You’re nearly ready, nearly there.
This is the Aboriginal omniscient narrator who sees what we, the reader, is seeing and understands the way in which we are always searching for bearings.
You’re trying to read a flat pattern, like the sea, the land from high above. Or you might see your shadow falling upon this page. And maybe that’s all you’ll see and understand.
It’s very clever. On the one hand, this is the narrator simply orientating us as we look through our small aeroplane windows and point to each other at the signatures of the landscape that we have already anticipated on our journey far north to a remote settlement – because we are very much like Billy and the rest of them as we fly due north, a little excited, a little unsure. But on the other hand the narrator is speaking to our readerly experience, one that might only see a darker side of ourselves as we fly into this narrative about Indigenous people and a young man who will also uncover connection to his own Nyungar self. The narrator challenges our reception to storytelling in that we might only see a shadow of the actual story or a partial story and be unable to see anything more. It all depends on us, really.
But like Billy himself, who eventually shakes off his city self and remains ever honest in his assessment of the experience, we are privy to the generosity of spirit ever present.
We’re gunna make a story, true story. You might find it’s here you belong. A place like this.
The narrator speaks to Billy but he is also speaking to us. This is when you are made aware that it is not just the author who creates the narrative, but you and me, the reader. Thus, the omniscient Aboriginal narrator welcomes us, the reader, to the story.
Then the plane banks and maybe you see nothing just sky, or maybe the trees the road the rubbish then in front of you the gravel coming up and bang you are landed.
Welcome to you.
The first time I read True Country it blew me away! I had never heard this type of voice before that moves from second person to first; then from a singular perspective to the collective. And no – it’s not confusing but rather absolutely right. Scott’s writerly voice is poetic and salient and funny and prescient and just so utterly different.
There are so many moments in this small novel that I want to share with you as Billy comes to understand the kids he is teaching and the Indigenous community that has embraced him and the way, eventually, many of the white staff members decide to leave. There are terrifying moments as well. The kids are taken by Billy and a few others on a trip to the city and one of the Indigenous young boys who has special needs is murdered by a group of drunk white guys. When I interviewed Scott (Westerly, Sydney 1996) about this particular incident he referred me to the factual account of this crime that actually did take place in Broome where the Indigenous boy with special needs had been set on by three white guys. The murder was brutal. The killers were not found guilty.
People carried bitterness, mistrust, defeat with them. In their pockets, purses, shoes; in their bowels and heads. It was always there, and now it was growing.
Yet despite all this, True Country is a tale of redemption. Billy is redeemed from a lifetime of not knowing his other cultural heritage, that which is Indigenous and richly connected to the community in which he now lives and works. We are redeemed in our reading position because it is impossible to read this novel and still see nothing but your own dark shadow across the landscape. This is a story deeply imbued with the textures of the remote north – where the largess of nature is sublime, in all its terror and beauty.
They watched Deslie running back to the bus through the soft white sand, grinning at them.
Behind him the rich blue sea suddenly erupted. A huge manta ray burst into the air close to the shore, and they could see the ocean cascading from its back and beneath it the torn and foaming whorl it had left. For a moment it hung, impossibly, in the air, then fell with a great splash…
Deslie looked at them, behind him, at them, and ran faster, not laughing now.
This novel is worth the read. I would love to know what you think!
Elizabeth’s first book, The Alchemy of Poetry, is available now! It would make the perfect gift for someone who is interested in the world of art and poetry and history and politics and love and death and war and the sublime – because the 160 poems selected in The Alchemy of Poetry succinctly and pitch perfectly offer all this and so much more!
Get your copy and send Elizabeth your review!
The Alchemy of Poetry by Elizabeth Guy
Published by Dreaming Big Publications
Paperback; 470 pages; ISBN-13 : 978-1947381414
Genre: Ancient, Classical and Contemporary Poetry; Education and Teaching; Non fiction