By Adrian Hyland 2006
Emily Tempest is the daughter of a white man, an itinerant gold prospector, and an aboriginal woman from a distant tribe. Although she was raised on Moonlight Downs Station in the remote outback of central Australia, her world changes when she is sent away to a city boarding school by her father. From there she moves on to dabble in three different university courses, culminating in an unfinished law degree. Like many bright young people she is curious to experience the wider world and embarks on a lengthy period of overseas travel. Finally she realises that her attraction to travelling across ‘other people’s deserts’ in North Africa and Rajasthan reflects a homesickness for the one she grew up in.
She returns home looking for a place to belong. But, in her absence, her old world has changed. A new owner at Moonlight Downs has thrown the aboriginal people off the property – sending them to a meaningless life of booze and drugs in the nearby mining town of Bluebush which is populated by ‘urban refuse’ from all over the planet. Adrian Hyland’s descriptions of the town rednecks are as witty and original as any I’ve ever read – ‘he had a head like a radioactive strawberry’ springs to mind.
More recently, successful native-title claims on the land have given the aboriginal community the right to return to their wilderness camp on the station. Although some are back there, the corrupting influence of the town continues to tempt many away. Emily returns to find Lincoln, her father’s friend, is fighting a brave battle to hold the community together out on Moonlight Downs where they can live a life which is peaceful and relatively healthy – even if devoid of material comforts.
The drama really begins when Lincoln is found murdered following a heated argument with Blakie Japanangka a physically and mentally powerful tribal sorcerer. Blakie has the power to heal, but also the power to inflict retribution on those he perceives as breaching traditional laws. At first, Emily is totally convinced that he has murdered Lincoln, but gradually other suspects emerge. Earl Marsh, owner of the neighbouring station, had violently opposed land claims – even forcing government anthropologists to leave his property at gun-point. Station owners are the local landed gentry with contacts in high places, so even the police are afraid to investigate them for fear of their own jobs. Later, other suspects with different motives emerge to further confuse the issue.
Feisty Emily realises that her dream of belonging to a close-knit community in the wild is threatened – and no-one will be safe until the murderer is brought to justice. She bravely sets out to find the culprit. Along the way she meets the love interest, Jojo Kelly, who is the local Parks and Wildlife officer.
And more and more, the story connects to the ancient dreaming story of the diamond dove whose traditional site is out on the remote ranges on the edge of the station.
In his review, Christos Tsiolkos has said – ‘Hyland paints both black and white lives with a rare clarity, compassion and affection.’
And, I would add, with a rare wit.