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Publisher: 1 August 2015 by PanMacmillan Australia Picador
Pages: 360 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, cultural-Australia
My Rating: 3.5 crowns
SaltCreek is set in the Coorong in the 1850s: a remote, beautiful and inhospitable coastal region in the new province of South Australia, which has been opened to graziers willing to chance their luck. Among them are Stanton Finch and his family, including sixteen-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 travellers passing along the nearby stock route - among them a young artist, Charles - and the Ngarrindjeri people they have dispossessed. Hester witnesses the destruction of their subtle culture and begins to wonder what civilization is. Was it for this life and this world that she was educated?
"If the land was an ill-patterned plate, the sky was a vast bowl that curved to meet the ground a very great distance from us in any direction we cared to look."
Lucy Treloar certainly did her research and has produced a thorough and comprehensive story of life for the first white Australian settlers. It's a very rich and detailed account of both the loneliness and struggles of those first settlers combined with the angst between how to approach the Indigenous population.
"I would like to return to that day and stop the dray and shout at our ghostly memories and the natives: 'I am sorry. I am sorry for what is to come."
The Finch family has well and truly fallen on tough times and the move to a remote part of the colony to try and establish a fresh start is fraught with tragedy. Bring to that the impact on the lives of the local Indigenous Australians and its a recipe for disaster. This is not an easy read and at times is difficult to get through. Overall, however, I think it is worthwhile for the reader to persevere, for herein lies a very real account of not only the personal impact and ensuring family disintegration, but also the tragedy that the First Indigenous Australians faced. Treloar captures that personal and communal destruction as the characters are very real and the events deeply moving at times.
Narrated by the eldest daughter, Hester Finch, it tells the story of the initial family relocation and then the ensuing heartache and sadness that was to follow.
"I have no fear of my own company...It is the tedium. The sun rises and sets; the wind blows strong or a little; the rain falls or does not...but I have little interest in them."
Interspersed with this are detailed descriptions of the remote, yet beautiful, region they called home. The story of the Finches, their trials and tribulations at Salt Creek, I found at times a struggle to read. There is just so much heartbreak and so many sad moments in this book. To say more about the story would ruin it for future readers. Overall, however, if you are into early Australian history and the plight of early settlers with the Indigenous population, I recommend it. It is a haunting story, unbearably sad at times, and yet beautifully written.
"And I feel always that I carry Australia with me. I am thrifty when I need not be; I have a longing for space and heat, the scent of eucalyptus."