Title: The Last Dingo Summer (Matilda Saga #8)
Author: Jackie French
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 16th November 2018
Synopsis: A body has been found in the burned-out wreckage of the church at Gibber’s Creek – with older skeletons lying beneath it.
The corpse is identified as that of Ignatius Mervyn, the man who attempted to kill Jed Kelly and her unborn child.
Newcomer Fish Johnstone is drawn into the murder investigation, convinced that the local police are on the wrong track with their enquiries. But as she digs beneath the warm and welcoming surface of the Gibber’s Creek community, more secrets emerge.
And Fish must also face her own mystery – the sudden appearance and then disappearance of her father, a Vietnamese refugee she never knew.
Set during the Indigenous rights and ‘boat people’ controversies of the late 1970s, this haunting story shows how love and kindness can create the courage to face the past.
Picking up soon after the events of Facing the Flame, The Last Dingo Summeris the second last novel in the Matilda Saga. The final one – Clancy of the Overflow – will be out later this year. The novel starts with tragedy – Sam McAlpine, Jed’s husband and Mattie’s father – is injured in a farming accident. Soon after his accident, Fish arrives in Gibber’s Creek, and several skeletons, including the skeleton of Ignatius Mervyn, who, a year earlier, tried to kill Jed Kelly just before she gave birth to Mattie.
Fish is drawn into the murder investigation – particularly the unidentified bodies lying below the church, but also wants to help prove who killed Merv while she stays with her grandmother and the Great aunts and uncles. As Fish digs below the surface, the secrets of Gibber’s Creek emerge, and Nancy starts to relive her years in an internment camp in Malaya during World War Two. Yet Fish has her own mystery – her missing father, someone she never knew.
At the same time, the residents of Gibber’s Creek are hearing about Indigenous rights, and the controversies of ‘boat people’ from Vietnam and Cambodia in the years after the wars in the Indochina region. Together, they will face the past and their differences, and come together to support each other when it seems like everything is going to fall apart.
I have been following the Matilda Saga for the past ten years, roughly since it first started, and have seen the characters move from the Sydney slums of 1894, to Federation, the suffragette movement, and into the First World War, the Depression, the Second World War and into the 1960s and 1970s – the years of hippies, another war, political change and the moon landing. Matilda, Flinty, Blue, Nancy, Jed and Fish and their families. It has been one of those series where each instalment builds on the previous ones, and highlights aspects of history once hidden, or not spoken about much in a fictional setting, and one where as I read, it simply swept me up in the story, taking me back to a well-known place, and familiar characters I always want to return to and know what they have been up to.
The stories told in the Matilda Saga are the ones that are usually hidden from history. The stories of women, of the poor, and the disenfranchised, as well as those whose race is used against them in laws and legislation. It is these untold stories and the way they form the backbone to Jackie French’s Matilda Saga that make the series and the ongoing story powerful. It is a series where readers get to experience a different voice to what is usually represented in history, and also, get to see themselves and possibly some of the struggles they have gone through in their lives reflected through Matilda, Scarlett, Nancy, and all the other fabulous characters, whether this be race, gender, class or disability, through characters like Flinty and Scarlett. Each of these intersections shows how women like those who populate the Matilda Saga have often had their voices erased or ignored. The Matilda Saga brings them to life, and brings to life the environment they live in, and makes the land as much a character as the human ones.
Across the series, we have lost beloved characters to war and other tragedy, and sometimes just to natural deaths. Here, the shadow of some of these deaths haunts the characters throughout, delving into a mystery reaching back into previous books and plotlines as the book has moved through almost a century of cultural, social and legal change in Australia, and how it affects the small community of Gibber’s Creek. Starting to come together to finalise the series, Jed is writing Matilda’s story, to show the world what Matilda managed in a time when women were not allowed to vote, when Indigenous people had no rights. She built a diverse community to help her biological and adopted family, and these novels have reflected this. In The Last Dingo Summer, Matilda’s presence is still felt by all those who loved her and lived with her. It is filled with intrigue and mystery, and the coming together of a community in times of drought, personal tragedy and a mystery that has left many people feeling unsettled in the face of the unknown.
This is a series I want to read again in its entirety once they are all out and follow the journey of all the characters closely as they evolve and develop across the end of the nineteenth century, and the first seven decades of the twentieth century, exploring Australian history across almost an entire century. It is a love story to a nation, and to people who need to have their stories told. It is a saga that gives a voice to the forgotten, and that is why I love it, because the stories are untold, unknown and that makes them extremely interesting, and I am eager for the conclusion coming out later this year.