Untold stories

tabooReview by NICK MATTISKE

Book | Taboo | Kim Scott

At the beginning, and in an afterword, to Kim Scott’s new novel about the struggle of Aboriginal people to crawl through the wreckage of the clash of cultures, he writes about the difficulty of conveying Indigenous culture in the English novel. Telling the story of ‘magic in an empirical age’ can only be done in faltering steps.

This difficulty is mirrored in the adventures of the Aboriginal characters in Taboo, a group of Western Australian Noongar people who visit the site of a massacre, plus other cultural sites, on the land of a kind-hearted white farmer. The farmer wants to honour his deceased wife’s wishes, and his Christian beliefs, by seeking some sort of peace with the traditional owners for the sins of the past.

Things don’t exactly go to plan. At times it is grim reading, with sex, abuse, swearing, drugs and alcohol. But there is also love, generosity, determination and a depth of connection with the land.

The novel’s strength lies in Scott’s ability to sensitively portray Indigenous people negotiating the complexities of how culture survives. There is no idealisation. Instead, Scott paints a realistic picture of the dual pressure to both fit into white culture and to be exemplary Indigenous cultural ambassadors, while being cut off from the land that sustains that culture.

There are parallels to a church. Scott tells the story of traditionalists who bemoan the lack of zeal in their fellows and who tally genuine loss, and those who see culture as fluid and adaptable, though sometimes too much. There are flawed individuals who come within the embrace of community, who are trying to keep the threads of tradition and wrestle with, while being battered by, modernity.

Available from www.panmacmillan.com.au RRP: $32.99


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