She’s done it again. Miles Franklin Award-winning author, Melissa Lucashenko has written a vibrant, tragic novel with dashes of humour that will resonate with all Australians, and particularly those living in and around Brisbane.
The author carried out extensive research into colonial Queensland history, but stresses that this novel is fiction, and although some characters did exist in that era, others are her creations. The title is that of a colonial name given to the inner Brisbane area now called Newstead.
Lucashenko has melded a tale of the 1850s Aboriginal people of that area with a story set in the modern Brisbane of 2024.
In that year, enter Eddie Blanket, a matriarch of the urban Aboriginal community, who is 100, maybe 103, or maybe neither. When in hospital after a fall, the difference between her attitudes and that of her granddaughter, Winona, becomes clear.
Winona is beautiful, clever, well read, an activist, and an angry young woman; while Eddie maintains that their people should not be sunk in bitterness or stuck in the past. She also knows more about the lore of her people than her granddaughter and prevents her from committing unspeakable errors in her activism.
The story set in the 1850s, just before Queensland became its own State, concerns the love of Mulanyin, a young saltwater man from the Nerang area, for Nita, an Aboriginal servant of the Petries, his interactions with that prominent family, and the white justice system.
Fast forward to 2024, and the elderly Eddie becomes the poster girl of celebrations marking 200 years since John Oxley named the Brisbane River. This is where the story takes a magical turn.
The 1850s Aboriginal residents named the river Warrar, and that is the term Lucashenko uses. She peppers the narrative with Yagara and Yugambeh words, having been guided by custodians of those local languages.
There is no glossary to explain the words, but the reader soon realises what they mean, with the novel melding settler and Aboriginal language. Edenglassie provides a deep understanding of the dispossession of the 1800s as well as urban Aboriginal viewpoints.
Reviewed by Jennifer Somerville
Released October 2023
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melissa Lucashenko is a Goorie author of Bundjalung and European heritage. She has been publishing books with UQP since 1997, with her first novel, Steam Pigs, winning the Dobbie Literary Award and shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.
Hard Yards (1999) was shortlisted for the Courier-Mail Book of the Year and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, and Mullumbimby (2013) won the Queensland Literary Award and was longlisted for the Stella Prize, the Miles Franklin Literary Award and the Kibble Literary Award.
She has also written two novels for teenagers, Killing Darcy (UQP, 1998) and Too Flash (IAD Press, 2002). In 2013 Melissa won the inaugural long-form Walkley Award for her Griffith REVIEW essay ‘Sinking Below Sight: Down and Out in Brisbane and Logan’.