I’ve recently moved to the north coast of NSW, after having been a city chick for most of my life. The north coast is a place of remarkable contrasts; I divide my time between Lismore, a largish inland rural city, with its fair share of conservative country folk, and the coast — specifically, hippy, happy, yuppie Byron Bay. If you’ve read Joanne Horniman’s Loving Athena, you’ll have an idea of this place.
Shortly, I’ll be renting in a tiny town straddling the highway south of the Bay, east of Lismore. It’s beautiful down there, I’ve been told, but — and they drop the tone of their voice — be aware. You’re just down the river from the Aboriginal Reserve, and they come into town and cause trouble. Avoid the pub, the Aborigines go there to get drunk and fight. It’s the 90s, so people don’t say "boongs" any more, but the inference lies behind the polite, avuncular warnings. At the same time, this area has provided the highest number of signatories in support of Wik outside of the cities, and Byron Bay is the only non-metropolitan area to so far have hosted the Sea of Hands installation. And I haven’t seen any overt, aggressive racism, but as I say, I haven’t been here very long.
It was in the context of getting to know this area that I read Deadly, Unna?, a wonderful first novel by Phillip Gwynne. I’ve told a lot of people about this book, and I have made a point always not to say that it is about race relations — or, indeed, racism — in a small country town, although that is perhaps the simplest way to introduce it. But it’s not an issue-driven novel, and to describe it as such does a disservice both to the virtues of Deadly, Unna? as a finely written novel, and also to the complexities of living in an area where two communities — so different, and yet essentially so very much the same — live side by side. Gwynne is too good a writer, and too clearly understanding of his characters (and, indeed, that nebulous thing we call Human Nature) to have reduced his...
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