Mullumbimby – a town I have visited on and off for the past 30 years or so and where I have called home for the past year. It is fitting that for my last book review with Book Coasters the story is situated in the Northern Rivers region where I spent my childhood; home to sub-tropical rainforests, winding rivers, stunning beaches and mountains formed by ancient volcanic rock.
Simply titled Mullumbimby, the book centres on a newly divorced Gooerie woman returning to her region with her teenage daughter to buy a block of Bundjalung land and reclaim her connection to country. It is about the universal quest of everyone to find home but also a much wider search of a Gooerie woman for meaning and home after generations of dispossession of this land.
There is something pretty extra special about reading a fiction story set against the backdrop of the town or city you’re living in. Lucashenko describes the pleasure of driving slow up the main street of Mullumbimby, watching the parade of locals out and about on a Saturday morning. The slow, drawling pace. She also describes the fruiting lilli pillis and sub-tropical splendour of the street at the right time of year. I relished my personal connection to this story and loved seeing the town, affectionately dubbed ‘Mullum’ by locals, come to life on its pages.
The novel explores the frustrations indigenous people have laying claim to such land and the conflict within indigenous communities themselves over native title. It also highlights that the needs and wants of indigenous communities are not homogenous, that they are endlessly complex and varying. That connection to country is a different thing for each individual Gooerie.
Her descriptions of land are raw and aching with spiritual longing for belonging and a sense of home, yet without a hint of sentimentality. Her writing is earthy and raw, including a lot of swearing – the first sentence of the book includes 2 expletives alone, but it feels absolutely natural and fits perfectly within this tale.
While Lucashenko’s style can be jarring at times, particularly the love story between Jo and Twoboy, it remains a work of great intelligence and bravery. She sheds light on contemporary indigenous life without creating clichés or absolutes, something which is sorely lacking on Australian bookshelves. Not an easy read, but a very important one.