Wyld, Karen. Where the Fruit Falls. Crawley: University of Western Australia Publishing, 2021. RRP: $27.99, 320pp, ISBN: 9781760801571.
This novel is a far-ranging family saga that follows the lives of four generations of women, including the main protagonists, Brigid and her twin daughters, Victoria (Tori) and Margaret (Maggie), over several decades. Through evocative storytelling, connections are made and the plot unfolds. The book follows two life stories that eventually line up, interlocking past, present and future.
Brigid is a young Aboriginal woman who cares for her Irish grandmother, Maeve, the owner of an apple orchard somewhere on the coast. Brigid’s story begins as she embarks on a voyage while pregnant to find her missing husband, one of the Stolen Generations who has left to find his Aboriginal family. Her only link is the ‘inland sea’, not the fateful sea that drove nineteenth-century white explorers into the interior, but a magical underground sea close to an opal mining town.
It is through story that we move back and forth in space and time. Time, in traditional Aboriginal storytelling, moves horizontally, so different Dreaming events may take place at the same time. Wyld uses magic realism to evoke this sense of linear travel. As the novelist states, ‘the fictional geography exists only in my imagination’ (341). The land opens up many possibilities as our protagonists move through it. We accept the initial premise as the young pregnant woman wanders for days or months without traditional bush skills and without a specific destination in mind:
Unbeknown to her, Brigid was camped in a place that sat comfortably between the here, now and perhaps. Even if she had no idea what to do next, others had a firm vision. And, it would appear, a plan to move her forward. (29)
Dreams also feature to reveal ancient wisdom and to instil vital knowledge. The language here is lyrical and full of sensory detail. Brigid sees strange creatures snaking under and through the landscape: sometimes they protect her, leading her to safety. Lost in the wilderness, she finds herself following a serpent that changes into features of the landscape and finally leads her to her grandparents’ community. Later, the spirits lead the group to an Aboriginal camp around the rim of the ancient sea, where they meet the children’s aunt, who tells stories of their father and his family. These are stories of loss, dislocation and reunion.
Birds seem to feature as messengers, bringing signs and sounds worth heeding. Brigid begins her travels following a black and white wagtail. This continues for weeks and months as she moves to an ‘unknown destiny’ (18). Later, travelling alone after the death of their mother, the twins, now young women, are guided by an eagle which helps them survive in the bush.
In Brigid’s story, the plot is centred on the threats and challenges confronting the travellers. It covers many of the injustices inflicted since first settlement: labour exploitation, segregation, missions, unpaid wages and the stolen children. Racism snakes in and out of time affecting the outcome of their every endeavour, including the novel’s denouement.
Questions about dislocation and loss, about colour and racial discrimination are presented to the reader. Wyld deliberately creates a black/white dichotomy, asking who is whiter inside and who is considered black? Each twin is a metaphor for racial stereotypes. In their early lives, the black child, Tori, is cast aside as untrustworthy, while the white child, Maggie, is praised and accepted without question in the communities they join. The author creates many different scenarios to challenge the central characters on these issues, for example when the family takes a coach to the city until other passengers complain. They are forced to leave when threatened with racism and police intervention (113).
Later in the book the orphaned girls embark on their own journey, aided by the Aboriginal people they meet who share their stories. They wander for some time until, as young adults, they settle into city life. Times have changed and black is both beautiful and unique in the artistic community they inhabit. Tori is accepted, lauded for her skin colour. She wants to live as a white girl, while Maggie begins the search for her Aboriginal identity and family.
This novel could also be read as an allegorical road story, as Brigid searches for what is lost, uncovering secrets as she moves across time and place on a journey of self-discovery through storytelling. Set over several decades from the 1950s, we see the effects of colonisation on Aboriginal life and culture as experienced through the three central characters. As young women, memories from the past resurface in their later lives, and the twins recall the knowledge and wisdom in these stories.
As the author says in her Notes, she writes ‘to uncover the truth’ and ‘to assist readers in understanding our collective pasts in a different way’ (341). It is this gradual understanding of their own Aboriginality that moves the action to its final conclusion, as the twins return to claim the apple orchard and meet their Aboriginal family.
Brenda Saunders is a Wiradjuri writer, living in Sydney. Her third poetry collection Inland Sea was published with Ginninderra in 2021, and her reviews and poetry appear regularly in anthologies and journals both online and in print, including Australian Poetry, Plumwood Mountain, Southerly, Westerly and Best Australian Prose Poems (2020). Her prose poems and microfiction have featured in sonic recording projects with Spineless Wonders and short films with Voices of Women 2021.