Salt Creek by Lucy Trealor
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?
Most people in our group enjoyed Salt Creek despite struggling with the size of the print. Two people listened to the audio book to overcome the difficulty in reading this edition of the novel and we thought a more readable edition would enhance the reading experience.
Although some people did not like the time shift in the novel, others found the technique was very successful and provided optimism for Hester’s future as her role in the large family, especially after their mother died, was very demanding and bleak. The time shift was a foreshadowing technique and allowed comments about themes such as Hester’s comment from England that she would like to return to the day she first met the Indigenous people and shout, “I am sorry. I am sorry for what is to come.” (Page 16.) The historical treatment of indigenous people is very topical and the novel deals with the dispossession of the Ngarrindjeri people is a realistic and sensitive way and evokes sympathy for the Indigenous people, especially as Tully is caught between two cultures. One member astutely commented, “Tully glides across the land whereas the Finch family lumbered.” Increasingly throughout the novel, the Indigenous people reveal their attitudes and values, although considered primitive, were more caring and compassionate and their treatment of the land was sustainable whereas the Finch family destroyed a fragile environment and brought death and destruction. On page 349 Fred said, “I told Tully we didn’t sell our women and they have a choice, and now I see that we are worse than savages; we are hypocrites.”
The novel explores many themes, but love is central and sadly love is not always genuine but pride masquerades as love and destroys people and hope. We were intrigued that each child in this large family was a unique individual and despite their cruel and controlling father, they achieved their hopes and dreams in varying ways and to varying degrees.
We found the description of the setting was excellent and the harsh and unforgiving landscape was another character in the novel. When the Finch family arrived at their new home, “There was just the sea and the wind: a mournful conversation.” (Page 18.) This quote highlights the excellent use of language in the novel.
The more we discussed the novel, the more complexity we discovered and thought it would be better to read this book when we had more time as the end of the year is so busy.
Read by MJ Readers