A Tear in the Soul
NewSouth $29.99 pb, 288 pp, 9781742235134
A Tear in the Soul is a fine example of creative non-fiction that unfolds a personal story but also advances our knowledge of Australian society, past and present. It is a nuanced contribution to the growing body of literature in which contemporary non-Indigenous Australians attempt to make sense of the history of white settlement and take responsibility for our own complicity in the past and current treatment of Indigenous peoples. In combining a personal quest to reconnect to her past with an exploration of 1960s Kalgoorlie and a moral self-examination, Webster has written a book in which story and idea interweave to engage and move us, even while we are forced to confront disturbing material.
Webster was born in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, her father and grandfather both local doctors. When she started school in the 1960s, she met Aboriginal children from the nearby Kurrawang Mission, who, she assumed, were orphans happily living in a caring community. She became particularly friendly with Bronwyn, who spent a summer holiday with Webster’s family in Esperance, and took a shine to a boy called Tony. Forty years later, a discussion with colleagues triggers a return to Western Australia to track down her friends. She is able to find them only after meeting Gregory Ugle, Tony’s brother, who has self-published a story about his years at Kurrawang.