By Sally MorganYoung AdultFremantle Press

Sister Heart

A young Aboriginal girl is taken from the north of Australia and sent to an institution in the distant south. There, she slowly makes a new life for herself and, in the face of tragedy, finds strength in new friendships. Poignantly told from the child’s perspective, Sister Heart affirms the power of family and kinship.

Portrait of Sally Morgan

Sally Morgan

Sally Morgan was born in Perth, in 1951. She has published books for both adults and children, including her acclaimed autobiography, My Place. She has also established a national reputation as an artist and has works in many private and public collections.

Judges’ report

Sister Heart by Sally Morgan uses a small cast and a limited time-scale to tell a far-reaching story. What it manages to achieve in this challenging form is impressive. In a word-perfect narrative that will start an important conversation about the Stolen Generation, we are left in no doubt about the trauma and heartache experienced by a young girl who is powerless to determine her future, or even her name – they call her ‘Annie’. Taken far away from her family and country in the north, on a journey that leaves her unable to tell which direction home lies, Annie’s strength is palpable through her memories of family, her faith in their love and her strong sense of injustice.

The despair of Annie’s arrival in the south is revived by the appearance of a new character, Janey, who immediately leaps off the page. Janey’s endearing humour and resilience provide contrast to the loveless environment. Morgan makes easy work of building character using small gestures and phrases, introducing other girls in the dorm as well as Janey’s little brother. The atmosphere of the institution is palpable but how this happens in our mind’s eye is Morgan’s magic touch, nothing is laid on thick or laboured over. The characters demonstrate resourcefulness and mutual affection, and exist in a child-centric world that the reader will long for them to be able to preserve.

While the depths of what the characters lose during this short time is profound, it’s delivered with a restraint that allows powerful emotions to surge around the empty spaces of the page. The tone feels true to the confused anger of a child taken away from everything they know and love, as well as a child’s ability to reconfigure everything to their world-view. This is a beautiful book that richly deserves wide reading.

Extract

Here I am
curled in the corner
of a cold stone room
with no one to hug
but me

A too-high window
throws shadow lines
on the moonlit oor

Shadow lines
Hard lines
Straight lines
Barred lines

Like lines on a map
slashing hills and creeks
ridges and plains
rocks and spinifex

Old people laughed
when Mum told them
about the Boss’s paper map

Grandpa Mick shook his head
Hills won’t move for a line
Trees won’t bend for a line

Granny Rosy icked her hand
Pah — inside the lines
Outside the lines
It’s all our country!

But here I am
Trapped by lines
walls
window
door
shadows on the moonlit oor

Fencing me in
Cutting me off
Slicing me away

Making me cry
cry
cry
for home

Morning light streaks
through the too-high window
tickles my sore eyes
teases my skin

Bully boots
thud, thud, thud
Big keys jangle
clink-clank clink-clank
Door gives a rusty warning
Right you — out!

I shrink
small as a spider
press my face to the wall

He yanks me up
like a sack of our

Fist opens
Here — eat this

Not from him
No bread from
him!

I spit on his bully boots

He drops the stale bread
Clouts my ear

Been hit before
Been hit on the station
when I spilled tea on Boss’s visitors
when I got in the way
when I asked Boss a question

Policeman sneers
Why the Government’s
wasting schooling on
ungrateful kids like you
beats me

He pulls me forward
Out!

Where is he taking me?
Where is my mum?

The Premier’s 21 Shortlist