To survey concurrent works of art is to take the temperature of a particular time, in a particular place. And the temperature of the time and place in these four début Australian novels? It is searching for a sense of belonging, and, at least in part, it’s coming out of western Sydney in the wake of the 2005 Cronulla riots. All four novels are set in New South Wales, three of them in suburban Sydney. Each is concerned with who is entitled to land and the stories we tell while making ourselves at home in the world, sometimes at the expense of others.
The Price of Two Sparrows, by Viva La Novella Prize-winning author Christy Collins, considers who is permitted access to land and to what end. In this book, the disputed site borders a conservation area and becomes hotly contested when the local Islamic community purchases it with the intention of building a mosque. But Collins’s novel, set in an unnamed coastal Sydney suburb between 2004 and 2007, is not a simple story of far-right opposition. Instead, she has cleverly complicated that well-worn narrative and sought to represent multiple sides of the debate. As Julian, a journalist who covers the dispute, says: ‘You can tell a story in many different ways.’