“Hear how soft the Warrar laps against these mangrove trunks? Like a wallaby lapping at a puddle. But in my Country the burragurra crashes onto the sand one hundred times louder; the waves are this high,” he demonstrated with a hand at his neck, “before they curl over and kiss the beach with passion, as though they really mean it. The pounding of the surf is the pounding of my heart.”
In a place of biblical beauty, Edenglassie, the latest epic by Miles Franklin-winner Melissa Lucashenko, reflects a luminous spectrum of Aboriginal experience over five generations. Powered by a tidal rhythm that both enamours and smashes the heart, two life stories expand into a universe of meaning.
In 2024, Elder Eddie Blanket trips on a tree root and falls on the Yagara (South Bank) dirt, unable to move. The citizens of Brisbane avoid assisting the old Black woman and walk past her. Time passes slowly until eventually two international students stop to help and, temporarily blinded, Eddie settles into an extended stay in hospital.
A modern-day romance is sparked when Dr Johnny Newman falls in love with Eddie’s granddaughter Winona, who – standoffish, rude and unwilling to compromise – usurps Emily Brontë’s antihero archetype. Johnny reflects that Winona is “entitlement on steroids or maybe a real life revolutionary”. He braces himself for blood quantum politics: Mister Seven Per Cent. One good nosebleed and ya outta the tribe. Claimin ya Blak now there’s money in it.
Winona surprises him with an attempt at biology: “Ya heart’s one per cent of your body weight, hey, but you’d be rooted without it.” Together they navigate love, culture, generational differences and the seas of social change.
The second storyline is set in the 1850s, when Aboriginal people are becoming a minority and criminalised for living on their own Country. Mulanyin, a graceful, upstanding cultural man, experiences love and devastating loss. Throughout the story, he struggles to understand the way that the colonisers live in the world. All he sees is chaos and a jarring morality. He thinks the English, able to leave their own countries and without connection to land, are savages.
At the intersection of the stories the tide turns and Lucashenko invites us to see beyond the veneer of a “civilised” culture that idolises objects. We are invited to acknowledge the environment around us and, instead of prioritising accumulation, to nurture the jewels of life on Earth: Country, waterways, animals and supportive relationships. We are prompted to see a future where individuals contribute to sustainable, generational wealth that will protect both species and the human race, and ensure a holistic, truthful education of our children.
UQP, 320pp, $32.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 14, 2023 as "Edenglassie".
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