The author, a Bundjalung woman, has written a book that is at once devastating and funny. The continuing awful results for indigenous people of the European presence are well depicted here.
The story centers on Kerry, who rides a stolen Harley back to her hometown as her grandfather is dying. She is sad about her girlfriend, just sentenced to five years in prison for robbery and feels guilty about being free; she had some unclear role in this robbery.
The family she finds includes her brother Ken, always drunk and often on the verge of exploding into violence, her mother Pretty Mary who quit drinking 20 years before when her daughter Donna disappeared, the dying Pop who believes to the end that the bet he just made was a winner, and Donny, Ken’s son who doesn’t eat and is belittled by Ken. Kerry overhears the town’s Mayor in a conversation about the planned development of the island sacred to the family. The family is galvanized to oppose this outrage and with some luck, bold action, and steady work, they are successful. They are helped by two other siblings who turn up.
Along the way are some delightful images.
Two waark [crows] in the paddock across the road flapped their wings at the scene, helpless with laughter. Pretty Mary shot a warning glare at her totemic siblings through the thick smoke haze, but it did no good. Proper cheeky, them crows. She resolved to growl them if they got any louder.
Later in this conversation, Pretty Mary was asked how her father-in-law lost his eye. “Pretty Mary was weighing her words with great care. The crows hung intently on her answer, missing body parts being of keen professional interest to them.”
The orange cat had decided to perch itself comfortably on the wide leather seat [of the Harley], with its striped tail wrapped snug around its front paws. The cat was looking straight ahead through the handlebars as though contemplating life on the open road. Off to sunnier climes where it wouldn’t have to outwit both Elvis [the dog] and the cane toads to lick the Homebrand pet food tins scattered under the house.
Still Life with Cat, Durrongo Style. And the Harley was pretty much the only thing in Durrongo that had any bloody style to it, the only part of life here that didn’t scream poverty and desperation. It was the single thing that said to Kerry each morning that she had made it out of Shitsville alive, that she didn’t belong forever in the godforsaken dump she’d fled at seventeen.
Kerry made it out, but now has made her way back and is trying to be part of the family. She learns about more killing and abuse suffered by her ancestors that echoes in the family through the generations. One of the elders acknowledged the abuse that another venerated elder inflicted on a child. The abuse that now-dead elder experienced himself was described and while forgiveness is not the question, the family had to decide whether to keep going. Dysfunction is much in evidence, but there is also a larger family/community that works to support each other. While the book ends on a high note with Kerry finding love, Ken sober, Donny eating and taking part in family life, it’s a hard go.
Melissa Lucashenko, Too Much Lip, University of Queensland Press, 2018, 328 pages (I read the kindle version). Available through Amazon.