There was so much to enjoy in this book, I feel a little guilty about my reservations that follow. It is in many ways a straightforward piece. The author tells an extended coming of age story (1987 on the banks of the Lachlan River to 2004 in the Public Service jungle of Canberra) initially focusing on young protagonist Jayne and her country pals who enjoy playing together in their bush riverside environment. There is plenty of potential to pursue their development through their teen and early adult years and this is largely well and sensitively done considering their differences (Ian is at least importantly part aboriginal, something not clarified until later in the piece) and the accidental, social and economic pressures they will confront.
A key circumstance that binds these children together is their discovery of a glade of old Aboriginal carved trees that are at least part memorials (Ian’s ancestry?). This bond of discovery and its challenge is an interesting insight into the attitudes of many Europeans toward manifestations of traditional culture when it is perceived as a threat (land claims) and destruction. I have been privy to a wide range of views on this topic from people of all ages over the years (some very surprising) and those developed by the young people in this case were hopeful.
The tale is presented in chapters that alternate between 1987 and 2004 when Jayne has (perhaps) found her niche as an Art Historian Curator at the National Museum, and has been offered a redundancy package when she also makes a discovery that could open up a new career direction for her. She has also discovered and pursued her lesbian nature with mixed success, but has now found Sarah who is becoming more deeply involved in her National Security work in the Defence Department and may be pulling away from their relationship. Both characters are at tipping points and the matter of aborglyphs (those carved tree trunks) intrudes as a chance to compensate for the loss of those destroyed on the banks of the Lachlan. A chain of events is set in place that ends on the last pages rather weakly while the Jayne and Sarah do seem to find their feet in charting futures for both.
I must say I have never seen carvings such as those described nor heard of them and that was an interesting learning experience for me. Inga Simpson comes from the Wiradjuri country being described and has great awareness, interest and delight in bringing it alive. I do remember seeing tree burials on display in the old Queensland museum and was disturbed by them as a youngster. I am a 100% city boy but did holiday on my uncle’s orchards at Stanthorpe picking fruit and spending time with my cousins, so I responded well to the detailed descriptions of the bush, bird and animal environment (no one can forget their yabbying days) along with those wonderful farm cooked meals and generally a kid’s life on a farm. However, some might find them rather extended as I found the detail of Canberra cycling paths and cafes.
As I indicated initially, there was almost too much of a good thing when it comes to detailed description which some would enjoy more than others though with a lack of strong character and plot developments. The notion of reclaiming Aboriginal artefacts is (and remains) a strong plot possibility in itself as is that of Canberran aid machinations and the impact of Public Service life on the servants themselves. Overall well done and an easy pleasant read that I am happy to recommend with minor caveats.
(BCC library has 21 copies, eAudiobook, 3 Dyslexia Font Edition, 5 mp3 sound recording)