First of all, she captures the little known beauty of that remote watery place perfectly. Her ability to conjure up its landscape, once shared with the local Narandjeri Aborigines, is a reminder that it is a hard place to farm now, just as it was then. Secondly, the story she tells is utterly compelling and almost mythic, such are the powerful forces unleashed on the family of misguided pastor Finch as told by his endlessly forbearing daughter Hester.
When light skinned Aboriginal boy Tull befriends the Finch family, he is welcomed into their home to share their meals and conversations. But while curious about white culture, Tull remains proud of his own. ‘Don’t you have any stories?’ he asks pointedly one day (They direct him to the Bible). On another, he remarks that he considers all white people ugly. When the Pastor muddies his tribe’s waterholes, there is consternation. When he chops down a venerable tree, the question of who owns the land is a source of more discord, a rumbling thunder that must eventually break into a storm.
Treloar calibrates these little moments of tension with impeccable judgment, never overplaying them, though she signposts a grim outcome early on, warning the reader to brace themselves for disaster. Which makes the cumulative impact of this unconventional relationship, balancing trust and mistrust, so devastating when things begin to go wrong. The Pastor is not as principled and high minded as he might wish and has no head for business: all his ventures end in debt, with increasingly terrible consequences. When Tull forms a close bond with Hester’s youngest sister Addie, Hester refuses to see what is under her nose. As the family fractures, torn apart by the pastor’s blind unbending values and his hypocrisy, Hester tries to hold everything together.
She is a fascinating creation: full of contradictions, overwhelmed by an eldest daughter’s sense of duty following her mother’s early death while longing to be free and independent. Seemingly uninterested in personal attachment, she fights her own nature and impulses when drawn to a visiting artist explorer. Their moment of romantic intimacy on a shell beach is again understated and restrained, sensual but unsentimental.
The novel builds to a climax that avoids melodrama, but is charged with high emotion and tension to the very last chapter.
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 wealth 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 … Read more.