The story is told from the point of view of fifteen-year-old Hester, describing the hardships of life on Salt Creek, and their encounters with the local Ngarrindjeri and Finch’s dreams of ‘civilising’ them. His dreams slowly unravel through the book and he manages not only to alienate the aborigine people, but members of his family as well.
Hester becomes the glue that keeps them together and it is her concern for her family - her poorly mother, her flighty younger sister Addie, her dreamy brother Fred, the baby Mary - that keeps things on an even keel. She puts her own happiness last, but underneath she has a steely determination to live a different kind of life.
Another key character is Tully, the aborigine boy the family befriends. He lives between two worlds, a survivor able to live off the land like his people, but quick to learn and understand western knowledge too.
Inspired by real events, this is a novel about a clash of cultures, the misplaced optimism of new settlers, and the injustice done to indigenous people, the struggle for women to have any self-determination. It is a gripping read, elegantly written and evoking a wonderful sense of time and place. Salt Creek deservedly won a place on the shortlist for this year’s Miles Franklin award. It is one of those novels that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.
Posted by JAM
Catalogue link: Salt Creek