5 December 2016

Review: SALT CREEK, Lucy Treloar

  • this edition: EasyRead Large Edition
  • published in 2015 in Picador for Pan Macmillan Australia
  • ISBN: 978-1-45876-590-1
  • 569 pages
  • source: my local library
  • author website: http://lucytreloar.com/salt-creek/
Synopsis (Pan Macmillan Australia)


From the winner of the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize (Pacific Region) and the 2013 Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award
"Salt Creek introduces a capacious talent" The Australian

Some things collapse slow, and cannot always be rebuilt, and even if a thing can be remade it will never be as it was.

Salt Creek, 1855, lies at the far reaches of the remote, beautiful and inhospitable coastal region, the Coorong, in the new province of South Australia. The area, just opened to graziers willing to chance their luck, becomes home to Stanton Finch and his large family, including fifteen-year-old Hester Finch.
Once wealthy political activists, the Finch family has fallen on hard times. Cut adrift from the polite society they were raised to be part of, Hester and her siblings make connections where they can: with the few travellers that pass along the nearby stock route - among them a young artist, Charles - and the Ngarrindjeri people they have dispossessed. Over the years that pass, an Aboriginal boy, Tully, at first a friend, becomes part of the family.
Stanton's attempts to tame the harsh landscape bring ruin to the Ngarrindjeri people's homes and livelihoods, and unleash a chain of events that will tear the family asunder. As Hester witnesses the destruction of the Ngarrindjeri's subtle culture and the ideals that her family once held so close, she begins to wonder what civilization is. Was it for this life and this world that she was educated?

My take

First of all I note that this is NOT crime fiction, although there are mysteries.

A work of fiction, it is loosely based on inherited stories from the author's family, and includes some characters who actually existed, as well as some fictional creations.

It is set in the period 1855-1874. The Finch family who have been in the colony of South Australia for a few years, move from Adelaide to Salt Creek on the Coorong. They are a large family, 6 children initially, but things do not go well. There is a history of "bad blood" between the white settlers and the local aboriginal tribe, including the massacre of the survivors of the wreck of the Brig Maria. Details are left sketchy, but somehow Mr Finch was involved in the punishment meted out.

One of the issues is how the aborigines should be treated: Mr Finch believes in equality, but somehow that does not always come out in his treatment of others. There are references to George Taplin's attempts to civilise them through the mission at Raukkan.

The environment is a harsh one and members of the Finch family die and others go to the Victorian goldfields to seek their fortune. Meanwhile Mr Finch sinks further and further into debt, always balancing one "investment" against the meagre profit from another.

A very good read that seems to me to depict the history of these times with sensitivity and accuracy.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
Lucy Treloar was born in Malaysia and educated in Melbourne, England and Sweden. A graduate of the University of Melbourne and RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing program, Lucy is a writer, editor, mentor and creative writing teacher and has plied her trades both in Australia and in Cambodia, where she lived for several years.
She was awarded an Asialink Writer’s Residency to Cambodia (2011) to undertake research and to work on her first adult novel, then titled Some Times in Life. Lucy is the winner of the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize (Pacific), the 2012 Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award and a 2013 Varuna Publisher Fellowship. Her short fiction has appeared in Sleepers, Overland, Seizure, and Best Australian Stories 2013, and her non-fiction in a range of publications.
Lucy’s debut novel, Salt Creek (Pan Macmillan) was published in 2015 to critical acclaim. It has won the Dobbie Award, the Matt Richell Award for New Writer, and the Indie Award for Best Debut, and has been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and the Readings Prize for New Australian Writer.
Lucy is an Artist in Residence at Melbourne’s Arts House – see Creative Spaces. (Here’s the information page.) If anyone’s looking for an office or studio to write in, Creative Spaces is the place to find it.

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