The dispossession of Indigenous people from their lands … we know how that ends. In this story, the possessors also pay a high price.
In 1855, Stanton Finch and his family move from Adelaide to settle in a new area at Salt Creek on the Coorong, South Australia. It is sparsely populated and the family is isolated and lead a meagre existence, with Papa’s various schemes failing. They make some connections with the Ngarrindjeri people, befriending a boy called Tull who becomes one of the family. Fifteen-year-old Hester is desperately unhappy, and plans to escape as soon as she can, but she is tasked with helping to care for the family as they become more and more despairing of their situation.
“That was all of the house: a wood-lined room for the boys with narrow beds one above the other built hard up against the walls like shelves or a ship’s cabin, two more – one for the girls, the other for Papa and Mama – and the parlour and a dining room with scarce space for the table beneath a low skillion roof of thatch and wood. The walls of the last room were of mud and wattle: rough but white-washed so it seemed lighter than the rest of the house. There was a stove there for winter and a separate kitchen for summer below the verandah at the back.”
“Papa brought us titbits of news from the Travellers Rest: a report that some natives near the lakes had been given poisoned damper, which killed them. What purpose would that serve but to save a few cows? There was also a rumour of a black killed near the Travellers Rest, found in sacking weighted with stone in a deep waterhole. Papa gave it no credence since no one had seen a body. ‘People are not animals,’ he was wont to say, despite the evidence to the contrary.”
“He was at the front door, and spoke to me pleasant and clam as if his manner would make the occasion come right. It is in this way that we proceed with life, by convincing ourselves in each moment that events are running smoothly or are about to because the truth cannot be contemplated.”~Quotes from “Salt Creek” by Lucy Treloar
- Readings: “Salt Creek is an Australian classic in the making.”
- Sydney Morning Herald: “Perhaps most of all, this fine, accomplished novel is a respectful and unobtrusively beautiful homage to the Ngarrindjeri people and their relationship to the land.”
- Historical Novel Society: “This is another brilliant and absorbing addition to the recent crop of exceptionally fine historical novels exploring the Australian pioneer experience and is very highly recommended.”
- Mile Franklin 2016 Judge’s Comment: “This portrait of frontier life is a time-traveller’s delight”… “Salt Creek’s portrait of frontier life – seen through the observant eyes of fifteen-year-old Hester – unsettles assumptions about European ‘settlement’ and its devastating effects on Aboriginal culture.”
Historical note: Salt Creek, the setting for this story, is a small town on the Coorong in South Australia. Traditional owners in this area are the Ngarrindjeri people who were dispossessed of their land in the years after 1834 when the British government proclaimed South Australia a colony. Missionary George Talpin operated the Point McLeay Mission, now an Aboriginal community named Raukkan one hundred kilometres north of Salt Creek. George Talpin and the Mission play a part in this story.