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Close to the bone

Julie Janson’s début novel
by
September 2023, no. 457

Madukka the River Serpent by Julie Janson

UWA Publishing, $34.99 pb, 304 pp

Close to the bone

Julie Janson’s début novel
by
September 2023, no. 457

Given the huge popularity of crime fiction, some readers might wonder why there are not more examples by Aboriginal authors. Perhaps it is because crime in general is too close to the bone. It was only coincidental to be reviewing Julie Janson’s Madukka the River Serpent amid the controversy that followed the ABC’s coverage of the recent coronation, yet the relevance was inescapable. For the tiny number of readers unaware, this is when the slimy gutter of social media-fuelled racism dragged journalist Stan Grant down to the point where the national broadcaster lost one of its best (temporarily, one hopes). Grant’s departure speech at the end of his final Q&A on 21 May was so moving and thought-provoking it will stand in history alongside other landmark speeches – Paul Keating’s Redfern address springs to mind – and may well prove to be a catalyst for reform. Though prompted by cruelty and hate, it responded with generosity and love – love of people, love of culture, love of country.

Only coincidental, yes, but a timely and painful connection all the same. Madukka interrogates the darkest places in the relationship between colonial settlers and Indigenous peoples, through the all-too-familiar lens of environmental destruction and land and water theft. It is bad enough that the land has been stolen, but when the water is too, one can barely comprehend how communities control their rage and frustration, and yet they do. This is a work of fiction based throughout on ugly facts. In some ways, it is crime fiction at its most ironic and layered. One of the greatest ironies is that we readers adore this genre. Yet here we are, a nation still struggling to accommodate its criminal past.

Madukka the River Serpent

Madukka the River Serpent

by Julie Janson

UWA Publishing, $34.99 pb, 304 pp

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