SHORTLISTED FOR THE MILES FRANKLIN AWARD 2016
From the winner of the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize (Pacific Region) and the 2013 Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award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, and 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?
PRAISE FOR SALT CREEK
"this fine, accomplished novel is a respectful and unobtrusively beautiful homage to the Ngarrindjeri people" Sydney Morning Herald
"... written with a profound respect for history: with an understanding that beyond a certain point, the past and its people are unknowable." Sydney Morning Herald
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Evocative prose and a flair for drama drew us into this historical novel, set in the colonial era. Stanton Finch is full of dreams, but when his latest scheme fails, he’s forced to relocate his wife and children to a desolate South Australia property called Salt Creek. Narrated from the point-of-view of Stanton’s eldest daughter, Hester, Salt Creek will appeal to fans of the roiling bestseller The Secret River. It’s an affecting portrait of a family in dire straits—and a hard-hitting story about the characters’ troubled relationships with their indigenous neighbours.
I found it hard to get into at the start and then I couldn't wait to read the rest if it.
Lyrically, beautifully written.
Highly recommend. Made me bawl, but in a good way. Brill.
Beautifully written Australian Gem!
Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar is a beautifully written novel that almost reads like a song. Treloar superbly intertwines fictional events with factual events set in the 1850's in the rugged and harsh coastal environment of Salt Creek in The Coorong of South Australia.
The story is told from the viewpoint of the extremely likeable Hester (Hetty) Finch. In 1855 Hester Finch is 15 and her family are living a comfortable life in Adelaide, they have a lovely house and many friends. Her Grandmama and Grandpapa have moved over from England to be closer to their grandchildren. Life is good or so Hester thinks.
That is until Hester's father Stanton Finch's problems become the family's problems due to his dreadful business decisions. He is always looking for the latest business venture, to make up for the previous business schemes that have failed, he is getting further and further into debt.
Stanton Finch (Papa) makes the decision to move his family to the desolate Salt Creek in The Coorong. His plan is that he and his eldest sons will tame the land for farming and build a grand home for his wife. Hester's mama had been melancholy for sometime due to reasons that will become clear. Papa believes or (wants to believe) that this move would make his wife happy again, and of course be able to pay his debts.
The brutal travel from Adelaide to Salt Creek takes two days by horse and cart and then another three days by dray. On their travels they come across some women of the Aboriginal Ngarrindjeri tribe. The Finchs and the Aboriginals look upon each other as curiosities, nothing more and nothing less. To Hester this is confirmation that they are indeed now far from civilisation. Papa had allayed any fear they may have had about the Aboriginals by reminding the family about the wreck of "The Maria" (a true documented event), and that the blacks understood justice. Not much imagination is needed to understand what he means. The saying that comes to mind is "we fear what we do not understand."
When they arrive at Salt Creek, the word isolated is an understatement. Papa and his sons have already been out several times to build a "temporary home" which is nothing more than a stable. As soon as they have settled in, Hester's mama becomes even worse and is now severely depressed. Hester is the eldest daughter so it is up to her to take on the role of mother which entails everything from cooking, sewing, washing and homeschooling the younger children.
Papa believes naively that he and his family can live off the land quite happily with their Aboriginal neighbours. Instead, he and his sons working the land and their farming is causing irreparable damage to the environment, the people and animals that have lived off this land for thousands of years. Stanton Finch has started a chain of events that will cause devastation to not only his family but also to the Ngarrindjeri people.
As the novel moves along at a beautiful pace, we learn more about the Finchs and their neighbours the Ngarrindjeri tribe. The author introduces us to an Aboriginal boy named Tully, who is able to speak English and is welcomed into the Finch's home. Tully learns much from the Finchs and is homeschooled with the Finch's younger children.
Tully begins to work on the farm and eventually moves in with Finchs. He becomes the interpreter between the Whites and the Blacks. Whilst being homeschooled , he is also being taught the bible, which confuses him because of being brought up with all of the Dreamtime stories. He doesn't understand why the bible has so few stories or songs. What is this place called Hell? Why does Papa Finch believe all of Tully's people are going there unless they learn and believe in "The Good Book"?
The more Tully learns the more confused he becomes about everything he has ever known, whether it is the clothes worn by the women on a very hot day or the fences that were built to surround animals. Tully is torn between the Aboriginal way and the white way.
It is through Tully that Hester and the younger siblings learn of the Aboriginal ways which in turn, we the reader also learn so much. As an Aboriginal woman from a different tribe, I also learnt much about the Ngarrindjeri Tribe's beliefs and of their amazing skills also of their challenges.
Lucy Treloar certainly did her homework, as I was reading the book I would Google and check out the stories to see if they were factual. Everything from Chinese being called Celestials to the Whaling Station and of course the infamous story of the Traveller's Rest.
The character of Tully is an absolute delight and he will go down as one of my favourite characters in Literature of all time. He will stay in my heart forever.
As an Aboriginal Australian, I do wonder if we had more people like Hester and Tully back in the 1800's we may not have had such a horrifically violent past.
As I was nearing the end of the novel I became aware that I was reading it a lot slower, trying to savour every last word. This book is not for or against the whites or the aboriginals, it is a book of understanding each other and our cultures.
Anyone wanting to know about Australia or just in general wants to read an unforgettable book should get their hands on this. An absolutely breathtaking novel!
Incredibly, this is Lucy Treloar's debut published novel, I recommend remembering her name. I can't wait to see what she writes next.