Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sunday Salon: A Visit to Australia

A couple of years ago, my husband and I watched the movie, Rabbit-Proof Fence. Set in 1931 Western Australia, it was based on a true story about three girls who had been ripped from their families and forced to live in a government camp designed for "educating" them. The goal was to prepare them for integration into white society by stripping them of their own culture. The three girls were determined not to let them happen and escaped from the facility and set out on foot in search of home, over 1,500 miles away. It was a powerful and heartbreaking story.

I am not too familiar with Australian history other than what little was offered to me in the American school system, and the movie, The Rabbit-Proof Fence, proved to be an eye opener for me. A seed was planted and my interest in the Australian indigenous people grew.

It was with great interest then that I picked up Adrian Hyland's novel, Moonlight Downs, a mystery set in the Australian Outback with a heroine that is half white and half indigenous. Mr. Hyland's descriptions of the people who live and eke out their livings in the Outback, as well as the rugged land, offered me a more contemporary glimpse at what life may be like in that part of the world. Beauty and harshness all rolled into one.

I spent a good part of the day in the Australian desert with the spirited and tough Emily Tempest as my guide. Her wit and candid narrative made the novel an even more enjoyable book to read. I am looking forward to reading more by Adrian Hyland and visiting again with Emily Tempest. (Review to follow at a later date.)

While I do enjoy spending time in my own backyard, reading about familiar locations and traveling down familiar streets, I also take great pleasure in stepping outside what I know. I enjoy taking in different cultures and lifestyles, experiencing things I might not otherwise have known. Books can take me just about anywhere.

Where to go from here? Now that my visit in Australia has come to a close, I must move on. Will I travel next to Gaza in the Middle East for another intriguing mystery? To Darfur where the people are struggling to survive a continuing onslaught of violence? Or perhaps a visit closer to home is in order, maybe to Manhattan or Wyoming? So many choices . . . So many great books to read.

Where are you going today?


  1. On Wednesday, the Australian government will be officially apologising to the Stolen Generation of indigenous Australians (such as those depicted by the girls in the Rabbit Proof Fence), something that the previous party in power refused to do for some 12 years (lord, I've forgotten how long they were in power, but it's something like that).

  2. Thank you for the information, Miss Cee. Sad to say, it isn't really that different from what the U.S. government did to the indigenous Americans in some respects.

  3. I went with a friend whose own children are of mixed heritage to see that film and it was a very moving experience because so much of what was raised she and her family had experienced first hand. I'll tell her about the Hyland book; I'm sure she'll be interested.

  4. That happened to Canadian indigenous peoples as well, and it was still happening a couple of generations ago. I took a class on Canadian Native Literature and some of the authors we read had been put in residential schools themselves (Rita Joe and Tomson Highway, for example). It's really sad that that happened to indigenous peoples all over the world.

    I don't know much about Australia, but the little I do know sounds fascinating. I'm going to look for The Rabit-Proof Fence and for Moonlight Downs. Thanks for letting me know about them!

  5. Today, since it is a snow day here in PEI, again!, I am going to finish visiting Iran, where some ladies are reading Lolita, and maybe start a trip to southern Italy, where a murder is about to be discovered and solved by Inspector Montalban.

    I'd like to watch the Rabbit-Proof Fence movie.

  6. I really enjoyed The Rabbit-Proof Fence when I saw it a few years ago. The fact that it's based on what really happened makes it all the more heartbreaking. Moonlight Downs sounds good, another for the wishlist.
    As for where I've been...I've been wandering around Rome in the dead of night, visiting abandoned villas, stalking the undead! ;)

  7. I was in space yesterday! I started and finished 2001: A Space Odyssey. I'll probably go to Darfur with The Translator next.

    I'd like to watch Rabbit Proof Fence sometime.

  8. Wow, I'm fascinated to read about Australian culture, I'll have to put that book on my list. Also, I shied away from Rabbit Proof Fence because it looked so sad, but I think I'll have to put it on my Netflix queue. As for me, I was in in 1969 New Hampshire yesterday, reading May Sarton's Kinds of Love. Thanks for the salon!

  9. I'm in Norway with Karin Fossum's When the Devil Holds the Candle. Creepy, psychological thriller. Although since I'm half Norwegian and have been to Norway, it's not a total stretch to imagine the town in the book.

  10. Australia has always interested me but I just came out of Frank Beddor's Wonderland (The Looking Glass Wars) so I don't feel like visiting anyone else today. I might go back soon though since my library has the second book Seeing Red.

  11. I do love "traveling" with books. Lately though I seem to be spending a lot of time in Scandinavian countries - especially when it comes to crime fiction! :)

  12. I was in Ireland yesterday finishing up Angela's Ashes. Back in the US right now with Salinger's Nine Stories. I don't know your reading preferences that well, but I'd like to suggest The Bone People by Keri Hulme if you haven't already read it. It is about the white and Maori people of New Zealand.

  13. Ann - It was a powerful movie, one I think should be on everyone's must see list. I hope your friend will like Hyland's book if she does decide to read it.

    Nymeth - There is a residential school for American indigenous children in town that is still in use, although my understanding is that it is completely voluntary and has a different purpose now-- It has a rather shady history from what I have heard. I did not grow up in this community and so I am not too familiar with it., I'm afraid.

    Elizabeth - I hope you had a nice visit in Iran and Italy. :-) I especially liked the life stories in Reading Lolita in Tehran. It made for an interesting read.

    Tanabata - That sure sounds like fun!

    Michelle - Now that is far away! I hope you had a nice time. :-)

    I finally settled on reading The Translator also. I'm about halfway through now. Wow. So devastating in so many ways.

    Gentle Reader - Rabbit-Proof Fence is very sad, but it is worth watching, I think. And Moonlight Downs is a great mystery. I believe it's supposed to be part of a series.

    Karen - Norway is probably very cold right now. I don't know if it is in your book, but just the thought is making me shiver.

    I enjoy visiting places I have been in books or reading about places I have been. Sometimes when traveling, I purposefully look for books set in their local areas. I've found some real treasures that way.

    Jen - I can understand that. You need a little rest before venturing to your next stop. :-)

    Iliana - And I am so glad you are reading all those Scandinavian crime fiction books. I keep my wishlist pen handy whenever I visit your blog. :-)

    Trish - I just happen to have a copy of The Bone People in my TBR collection. I'm glad to hear you recommend it. It definitely sounds like something I would like.

  14. Rabbit Proof Fence is an amazing story. You might be interested to know that the Australian government, under the new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, is preparing to officially apologize for the way indigenous communities were treated in the past. There has been a big push for this for years, but the former PM John Howard always refused to offically say sorry.

    I also just tagged you for a meme!

  15. Dear LF

    Thanks for a generous and perceptive review of my book. I spent many years living on those remote communities, and the rest of society seems pale by comaprison. I don't know that my writing has a 'purpose', but if it does it's to give the wider world a sense of the joy, spirituality and amazing sense of place with which those people are blessed.

    All the best


  16. oops. rushed writing. change 'comaprison' to 'comparison' - although there may have been something Freudian in my writing 'prison' in there

  17. Australia is one of my favorite places to visit in a literary sense. Someday, I hope to go for a real visit. In the meantime, I get to harass my husband for going without me. I'll have to look for Moonlight Downs; it sounds like something I would enjoy reading.

  18. Alisia - I realize an apology cannot make up for what happened all those years ago, but it is something. I am glad to hear it.

    Adrian - Thank you so much for stopping in and commenting. I definitely think you succeeded in your purpose, even if not an intended one, with Moonlight Downs. I will be posting a more complete review of your novel soon.

    Nancy - I would love to visit there someday too. It seems like such a familiar place and yet so different. I remember being envious of your husband when he got to go. He should have taken you!

  19. Great post. It is too easy to insulate ourselves from the outside world. Good for you for having the courage to step out. Rabbit Proof Fence sounds familiar in that it happens in other parts of the world as well.

  20. Hearing the Australian government's apology this week had me thinking about how the situation was similar in Canada. I'd like to read Moonlight Downs; I feel like I've been neglecting Australia lately.

    Mostly I've been reading my way around Canada, but I have just spent some time in Regency England with a bunch of flowery spies...

  21. Someone, who I can't remember now for the life of me, recently said that Australia has had the world's most successful Apartheid system. Sad to say, it's the truth.
    Things can only get better now, and not a moment too soon.

  22. Jaimie - Thank you. Fahrenheit 451 really made an impression on me in that it reminded me of just how important it is to stay tuned into what is going on around us in the world. As you suggested, it's tempting to shut out the world because it can be so depressing, but that isn't always the best way to go.

    Melanie - I would like to spend more time reading books set in Canada. I'm kind of weighed under by must read books right now, but I'll definitely have to fit some in.

    The U.S. was not very kind to its indigenous people either, I know. I am glad to see that Australian government is taking the step it did today.

    Julie - I sure hope that things will get better now. I think our countries both have a ways to go, but I'd like to think we are on the right track.

  23. I was trying to leave a comment on this post last week and my computer would not cooperate! I've been wanting to learn more about the indiginous people of Australia, so will be looking for both the film and book you've mentioned. Thanks!


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