Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman

terra nullius.jpgTitle: Terra Nullius

Author: Claire G Coleman

Genre: Speculative Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 29th August 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: In the near future Australia is about to experience colonisation once more. What have we learned from our past? A daring debut novel from the winner of the 2016 black&write! Writing fellowship.

the truth that lies at the heart of this novel is impossible to ignore‘ – Books+Publishing

‘Jacky was running. There was no thought in his head, only an intense drive to run. There was no sense he was getting anywhere, no plan, no destination, no future. All he had was a sense of what was behind, what he was running from. Jacky was running.’

The Natives of the Colony are restless. The Settlers are eager to have a nation of peace, and to bring the savages into line. Families are torn apart, reeducation is enforced. This rich land will provide for all.

This is not Australia as we know it. This is not the Australia of our history. This TERRA NULLIUS is something new, but all too familiar.

This is an incredible debut from a striking new Australian Aboriginal voice.

~*~

aww2017-badgeTerra Nullius begins in an Australia that has a sense of a distant past, a setting that could have ben colonial days between 1788 and 1901, prior to the Federation of the nation, and it begins with a Native (as Claire writes it), running from a mission, conjuring up a very specific, and what is to me. A very sad, gut wrenching image of a young man running to find his true home and family after being ripped away from them by people who lack understanding of their culture. The first third or so of the book has this image and implication – the way the Settlers and Natives speak or don’t speak, the way they are portrayed through the eyes of the other, all suggest a novel about the early British arrivals making contact with the Aboriginal Australians, and their journey throughout the country, and how they dealt with what they saw as a hindrance and the aftermath that has had a trickle down effect into later generations. What Coleman has done though, is using this experience as a basis, is placed the Australia as we know it in an undecided time and place – and instead of the British, an alien race has come down and taken over all humanity and set out to destroy them, regardless of race, and regardless of how humanity, at the stage of the novel, has been working together to combat racism. Faced with interplanetary overlords, the remaining humans must fight to keep their humanity, keep their planet, and come together against a common enemy.

Told through a few perspectives – a spiritual sister, Sister Bagra, whose slow unravelling shows the flaws in thinking of the need to re-educate native populations that permeated throughout colonial times and powers, Johnny Starr, the rebel who slowly realises through contact with the Natives of Earth that perhaps, his people are wrong, showing that following a doctrine and specific way of thinking will often result in rebels who come to aid the down trodden, runaway Jacky, and refugee Esperance, whose stories, along with the head of the so-called protection board and the one who hunts down runaways, form a story that is familiar to many, yet unfamiliar to others, a story that some can identify with, but that others can hopefully learn from, and realise the mistakes of the past, and hopefully, work towards a better future.

Each character presents nuances in the way they react to the world around them, from outright hatred, to feelings of displacement, to attempting to understand beyond what they know, or feelings of superiority. Jacky and Esperance do not lose their humanity – instead choosing to unite their humanity and desire for freedom to fight an enemy that even some of its own people fear, or so it felt in the case of Johnny Starr, who could have acted as an intermediary, the one who wanted to stand up and say this is wrong, but whose own people refused to listen to. It sparked something in my mind of how people during colonisation thought – whether they all just accepted what officials told them without question, or if there were pockets who felt the desire to speak out, and yet didn’t – whether it was fear, or because they were laughed at or ignored – it would be interesting to know how these early contacts happened and whether different people had different experiences – and how listening to the other side and allowing them to be equally involved might have changed the history of Australia – would things have been better? I certainly hope so, for everyone.

Using speculative fiction to tell a narrative like this is powerful. Rather than distance itself from the history of colonisation, Coleman’s novel uses it but reimagines it in an undefined time during the history of Australia – so indistinct that it could be the distant past or near future. In doing so, Coleman has communicated a message of hurt and pain, and has evoked an empathy for the Australian Aboriginals in people who have not experienced what they have, and who also, may not understand it, but through speculative fiction, diverse voices like Claire’s can explore the politics that have influenced them and their families, and slot politics in where readers don’t expect it. I did come to expect some when I came to read this – I didn’t expect the speculative fiction, but rather, a historical fiction or alternate history dealing with colonisation in the eighteenth century. This would have been just as powerful, but the way Claire has done it, is exceptional. It provokes empathy and thought, and illustrates how the colonisation and settlement really was an invasion that led to colonisation and settlement – maybe this would be a better, more rounded way of putting it, and a way to acknowledge everyone involved in the history of Australia.

Black&write! Fellowship

Made up of the Indigenous Writing Fellowships and the Indigenous Editing Fellowships, this is a program designed to recruit, train and mentor Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander editors to develop Indigenous authored manuscripts. It is a State Library of Queensland project and more information can be found here: http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/whats-on/awards/blackwrite

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Goodwood by Holly Throsby

goodwood

Title: Goodwood

Author: Holly Throsby

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th September/October 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: It wasn’t just one person who went missing, it was two people. Two very different people. They were there, and then they were gone, as if through a crack in the sky. After that, in a small town like Goodwood, where we had what Nan called ‘a high density of acquaintanceship’, everything stopped. Or at least it felt that way. The normal feeling of things stopped.

 

Goodwood is a small town where everyone knows everything about everyone. It’s a place where it’s impossible to keep a secret.

 

In 1992, when Jean Brown is seventeen, a terrible thing happens. Two terrible things. Rosie White, the coolest girl in town, vanishes overnight. One week later, Goodwood’s most popular resident, Bart McDonald, sets off on a fishing trip and never comes home.

 

People die in Goodwood, of course, but never like this. They don’t just disappear.

 

As the intensity of speculation about the fates of Rosie and Bart heightens, Jean, who is keeping secrets of her own, and the rest of Goodwood are left reeling.

 

Rich in character and complexity, its humour both droll and tender, Goodwood is a compelling ride into a small community, torn apart by dark rumours and mystery.

 

~*~

 

Goodwood is told in a first person point of view from the perspective of Jean Brown. It is her story of a period of time during her surge towards adulthood, where she is hiding her own secrets from those closest to her, but also tells the story of two missing people and the response of the town she lives in.

When Rosie White goes missing, the town is sent into turmoil. Whispers about what may have happened – mostly surrounding the idea that she ran away, circulate. Set in 1992, the Belanglo State Forest backpacker murders are woven into the plot – and the town begins to buzz about Rosie’s possible fate if she had walked out of town and tried to get a ride somewhere. When Bart MacDonald goes missing a week later, secrets begin to unravel: Rosie’s family begins to come apart at the seams, and drastic measures are taken to ensure their safety, other residents whisper and do their best to cope, and others hide away and keep the truth to themselves, even from the local police officer, keen to aid everyone as best he can and keep things running smoothly.

As Jean witnesses this, her teenage mind keeps her preoccupied with her own secrets and fascination with the new girl in town, Evie, who arrived in the days before Rosie disappeared. Caught between her own secrets and life, and the desire to know what has happened, and the fascination and worry that such disappearances in a town where people die, but don’t disappear as Rosie and Bart have, Jean’s story is fraught with teenage desire to remain innocent yet at the same time, grow up ad find out who they are. Jean’s secrets are slowly revealed throughout the book and hinted at, but they don’t dominate the story – the storyline involving one of her biggest secrets is handled with care and just happens to be a part of who she is, without making it the large focal point. The novel reaches a climax when the secrets about what really happened to Rosie and Bart start to fall apart, and those who know something begin to come forward, their fear dissolving across the course of the novel. A well-written debut that tells a mystery and a coming of age story that engages the reader, and allows them to try to solve the mystery with the clues that are dropped every now and then.

Ruins by Rajith Savanadasa

*I received a copy of this from the publisher for review*

ruins .jpg

Title: Ruins

Author: Rajith Savanadasa

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 28th June 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $27.99

Synopsis: A country picking up the pieces, a family among the ruins.

 

In the restless streets, crowded waiting rooms and glittering nightclubs of Colombo, five family members find their bonds stretched to breaking point in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan civil war.

Latha wants a home. Anoushka wants an iPod.

Mano hopes to win his wife back.

Lakshmi dreams of rescuing a lost boy.

And Niranjan needs big money so he can leave them all behind.

~*~

Ruins is a book unlike others I have read. Set in Sri Lanka, in Colombo, in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan civil war, shadows of war and threats to daily life still exist. Amidst these shadows, a family is slowly crumbling like the ruins around them. Latha, the servant, desires nothing more than a home, a place she can feel safe. Daughter Anoushka wants an iPod, and to be a modern girl, who doesn’t want to be too traditional. Her brother, Niranjan just wants to escape this world and make his life somewhere else, whilst their parents, Mano and Lakshmi, are preoccupied with the distance forming between them: Mano wants his wife back, and Lakshmi is worried about a lost boy, whose fate is unknown. Each point of view is told in first person, with each character being given a chapter where the reader can explore the world from their point of view throughout the novel. In doing so, the reader is able to understand how each member of the family is affected by the world and the decisions they make: nobody is perfect, they are all flawed – they are human.

The ancient and modern worlds collide: the traditions of class and race, and expectations of men and women of the old world that Mano, Lakshmi and Latha have been a part of collide with the rapidly changing world Anoushka and Niranjan are growing up in. The characters and their worlds are set on a course of collision as secrets are revealed, and a journey to an ancient city reveals prejudices and the family, rooted in the old and the new, begins to unravel.

 

Savanadasa has drawn on an historical event that may not be as well known as some in recent years. It opens up this world to the reader, and allows them to explore it without prejudice, in a way that they can start to explore this Sri Lankan world of Tamils and Sinhalas, of class, race and gender stereotypes and assumptions in a setting that is both confrontational, unapologetic but also, that shows that all humans are flawed, that all humans can have prejudice and that all humans can work together to combat this. Savandasa’s words have an authentic voice behind them – born in Sri Lanka, he knows this world, and can relate to it, and can relate to the modern world he now knows in Australia. Ruins arose from the QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program in 2014, and are Savandasa’s debut novel. He is a refreshingly diverse voice in Australian literature, and I look forward to his further works.