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The Settlement by Jock Serong

The Settlement is not an overly comforting read. In fact, many aspects of the novel are quire confronting in their presentation of colonisation and displacement. But that is the modus operandi of Jock Serong if the previous two books in the trilogy are anything to go by.

It is the story of a journey, a fairly epic journey in fact. One that looks at the indigenous peoples of Australia - in this book specifically Tasmania as Preservation dealt with Sydney, and The Burning Island dealt with the Furneaux Islands.

Serong is onto book 8 now, and shows a real talent for expressing Australian history in all its glory, and its sorrow. A practising lawyer, Serong has precision in his diction, and strong imagery that powerfully drives his novels through rather poignant situations.

We begin, in The Settlement with the character of George Robinson who attempts to move some indigenous Aboriginal locals to move of the land in order to avoid being slaughtered by settlers. In the eyes of the protagonist, this is nothing more than a gift to them, saving their life. But there is obviously more to it than that. The end goal is to move all the survivors to the small settlement of Aboriginals on one of the Furneaux Islands.

Along the way the connection with some of the locals is really the driver of the novel. His connection with one of the elders, sick of the death and destruction that the colonists bring, is really brought to the fore and examined as a focal point. This character, Mannalargenna, is presented as wizened and thoughtful, he recognises much about the white evangelicalist and shows some hesitation to the act of moving all his people of their ancestral land. As with other books in the genre of colonisation, the plight of the indigenous is highlighted, death of cultural practices, forced education of the young, and exploitation of the land, and women.

Once they manage to get the people onto the island, Robinson shifts his attitude to a rather autocratic style of leadership and shows disregard, even contempt for the population he has moved on.

The spotlight then turns to Whelk, a young lad who manages to find the strength and courage to fight back against the oppressors. The question is, how much can one boy do? The passages around Whelk, and another young orphaned child, Pipi, are difficult to read. Their treatment from the supposed saviours of the people is both heartbreaking and horrific.

The imagery in the language is beautiful, as is the representation of the indigenous people of Australia. It is a moving and highly poignant tale of survival, and courage.

Reviewer: Chris Reed

Text Publishing


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