‘Mullumbimby’ by Melissa Lucashenko

Exploring contemporary indigenous life in her novels (Mullumbimby is her fifth), Melissa Lucashenko’s approach is darkly comic, humour told with a sharp satirical eye but with respect to heritage and history along with the occasional terseness and anger.

With a recent divorce settlement, Jo Breen has purchased a neglected property in the Byron Bay hinterland. As a Goorie, she feels a deep connection with the land of her Ancestors. Looking for something of a sea change and, heading into the beautiful, rolling landscape with teenage daughter, Ellen, and her horses, Jo is looking to make good of her life.

But, naturally, little goes according to Jo’s expectations. With poor phone reception and isolated from school friends, Ellen is unimpressed. And not only does Jo find herself in the midst of a looming native title war between local Bundjalung families – she finds unexpected and unlooked for love. Not that the two are separate issues. It’s  the dreadlocked, devastatingly handsome Twoboy, down from Brisbane with his brother, who is the initiator of the native title war.

Much of Jo’s world is vividly realised by Lucashenko’s writing – whether it be socialising with family and friends or her connectedness to the immediacy of the more isolated parts of her property. Lucashenko writes powerfully about country, race and identity and employs memorable imagery. She does, however, struggle when it comes to fully realising male characters – indicative by the fact most of the characters in Mullumbimby are female. Sexy though Twoboy is, he is something of a stereotype parody, failing to convince as to why Jo would continue her involvement with him.

But it’s a minor caveat as Mullumbimby isn’t ultimately about Twoboy. This is Jo’s story and the cultural story of land and country. The Miles Franklin winning Too Much Lip it’s not, but this earlier novel is still an enjoyable read.

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