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Black silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat on a green background (with some faint writing in the top and bottom thirds), with the words in white: 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

Every Secret Thing by Marie Munkara
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads blurb

When culture and faith collide . . . nothing is sacred

In the Aboriginal missions of far northern Australia, it was a battle between saving souls and saving traditional culture.

Every Secret Thing is a rough, tough, hilarious portrayal of the Bush Mob and the Mission Mob, and the hapless clergy trying to convert them. In these tales, everyone is fair game.

At once playful and sharp, Marie Munkara’s wonderfully original stories cast a taunting new light on the mission era in Australia.

‘told with biting wit and riotous humour’
Judges’ comments, Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards (2008)

My review

I intended to read this book for the 2015 Australian Women Writers challenge, but as I realised I had read it before, that was not to be.

However, in the spirit of the challenge – and because it is a must-read, and excellent with it – I am including this as an extra review.

Every Secret Thing is written as an account, told by anecdote, of the development of the relationship between the bush mob and the mission mob – the latter have set up the mission somewhere in northern Australia, not too far from a town referred to as Big Joint, with the purpose of Christianising and “civilising” the bush mob.

The various anecdotes tell, humorously, disputes and misunderstandings between the bush mob and the mission mob, and within each, with everyone’s flaws exposed and with the joke generally being on the mission mob – at least at first. The kids confound the visiting Bishop with their logic (why would Adam and Eve eat the apple instead of the snake when the snake would taste better?); Augustine and Methuselah outsmart Brother Michael and make off with various livestock in The Brotherhood; Pwomiga gives deliberate, and hilarious, mistranslations in Wurruwataka.

But as the book goes on, the stories become more and more bittersweet. The dark undercurrent which is evident from the beginning, such as oblique references to child sexual abuse, become stronger and more explicit, such as the story of Tapalinga and Perpetua, two members of the Stolen Generations, in The Garden of Eden. And the ending, which I won’t spoil, is very black indeed.

We have far too few stories about the mission mob/bush mob interaction from the perspective of the bush mob. What I think is particularly valuable about a book like this is that it treats the bush mob’s life pre-mission-mob as the baseline, and the interactions with the intruders, the parts of European culture/industralisation the bush mob accept or reject are explained, and make sense, in that context. For example, if you have always cooked over an open fire, why would you automatically recognise an oven as a device for cooking as opposed to a convenient storage space – or den for newborn puppies? To my mind, this is an effective method of refuting the proposition that Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders are (or were before the coming of the white man) backwards, uncivilised, stupid and lawless. And whatever else, it is refreshing to start from this perspective instead of the perspective which uses the European Australian attitude as the default position.

This was a book I was very pleased to read again, and it is a book I think is a must-read for all Australians.

This is an extra review for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge. You can see my full list of books here. You can find a full list of my reviews, and other posts relevant to the challenge, here.

Cross-posted.

Black silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat on a green background (with some faint writing in the top and bottom thirds), with the words in white: 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

I have completed the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge!

This post is to record how I went compared to my challenge criteria, and to give a very short overview of each book.

First, the books. They were:

Continue Reading »

Black silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat on a green background (with some faint writing in the top and bottom thirds), with the words in white: 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

Peony by Eileen Chong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads blurb

An engaging new collection from the author of Burning Rice.

My review

In Peony, Eileen Chong deals with a range of themes, from the nature of family and ancestral roots and traditions, to death, friendship, travel, fear and, of course, love.

Throughout the book, her voice is a consistent one. The poems often seem very personal. These attributes can be positive, and many of the poems made me think deeply or inspired feelings. Continue Reading »

Black silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat on a green background (with some faint writing in the top and bottom thirds), with the words in white: 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

Too Flash by Melissa Lucashenko
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads blurb

Bring problems to us before they’re too big to handle, the Princpal advises Zo when she arrives at her new city school. But good advice isn’t much help to Zo. Her Mum’s still a workaholic, and her best friend is still a thousand miles away, back home. Zo soon teams up with Missy. She’s cheeky, smart, a mean soccer player and believes in magic. She comes from a tough family that doesn’t take crap from anyone and it shows. She’s all muscles and attitude like a cattle dog on the warpath. Zo is more laid back – having money makes for a bigger comfort zone, even if you are fat and black. A showdown can’t be far away when Zo and Missy’s worlds collide. It’s not a racial issue – or is it? At school or clubbing or stomping the bush on Kulcha Kamp, the girls are on edgy ground. But in the darkness of night, each of them finds a special magic of her own…

My review

I don’t read much YA these days (I consumed masses of it when I was part of the target audience) but there is something about well-written YA that leaves me feeling very satisfied. This book falls well into that category. Continue Reading »

Black silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat on a green background (with some faint writing in the top and bottom thirds), with the words in white: 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

MumShirl with the assistance of Roberta B. Sykes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads blurb

Colleen Shirly Perry, better known as ‘Mumshirl’ worked for the Aboriginal Medical Service, recieved an MBE and generally did everything she could for aboriginal people.

My review

It feels quite appropriate to be writing this review on Australia Day/Invasion Day/Survival Day, particularly one on which the debate is not only about the nomenclature of the day and what (if anything) we should be celebrating or commemorating, but also about whether someone such as the husband of the Queen of England should receive the top Australian honour, in circumstances where that honour is itself controversial and where the man is known for making ignorant and bigoted comments, including to Australias First Nations people.

I’ve said in other reviews that books have given me access to a new perspective, a different way of telling the story. This is also true of MumShirl’s autobiography. Continue Reading »

Black silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat on a green background (with some faint writing in the top and bottom thirds), with the words in white: 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads blurb

French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. At the convent, she is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens…

After Margherita’s father steals parsley from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off, unless he and his wife relinquish their precious little girl. Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death. She is at the center of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.

Locked away in a tower, Margherita sings in the hope that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does. Continue Reading »

Want free books? Check out Shellyrae’s post at Book’d Out explaining the 2015 Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop and offering up two books herself.

Non-Australian residents are eligible for many of the giveaways.

Entries close midnight Tuesday 27 February AEST – better get hopping!

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