By Karen WyldIndigenous Writing UWA Publishing
Where the Fruit Falls
An ancient ocean roars under the red dirt. Hush. Be still for just a moment. Hear its thundering waves crashing on unseen shores.
Spanning four generations, with a focus on the 1960s and 70s, an era of rapid social change and burgeoning Aboriginal rights, Where the Fruit Falls is a re-imagining of the epic Australian novel.
Brigid Devlin, a young Aboriginal woman, and her twin daughters navigate a troubled nation of First Peoples, settlers and refugees – all determined to shape a future on stolen land. Leaving the sanctuary of her family’s apple orchard, Brigid sets off with no destination and a willy wagtail for company. As she moves through an everchanging landscape, Brigid unravels family secrets to recover what she’d lost – by facing the past, she finally accepts herself. Her twin daughters continue her journey with their own search for self-acceptance, truth and justice.
Karen Wyld’s Where the Fruit Falls grabbed our attention as a powerful and moving story of intergenerational Indigenous women trying to ascertain their place in a volatile country, in the face of ongoing oppression and colonisation. In the characters we meet we are also told the stories of migrant people who were similarly marginalised and ostracised by a white Eurocentricism determined to turn this country into an unwelcome place for those who are different. Wyld uses beautifully poetic language which drew us in and held us from the beginning to the end page. Using storytelling between the characters as a central way this novel is constructed, this book reminds us of the power of Indigenous storytelling practices that the author undertakes herself.
Sitting out the front of their small fibro house, Albert heard his wife open the door and walk towards him. The old man was engrossed in reattaching a spearhead to a long narrow piece of wood that held the memory of his hands. He could sense that Vic had something to say.
‘Those girls are growing so quickly,’ she remarked.
Albert looked towards the twins playing on a blanket at their mother’s feet, as Brigid hung washing on the line.
With a sigh, Vic said, ‘She won’t listen. Have you noticed?’
He nodded, returning to repairing his spear. He had noticed. And it worried him. Brigid was a keen hunter, asking lots of good questions. She was also very interested in navigational skills. How to find her way using landforms, or the sun and stars. She had an excellent sense of direction. And she was competent at finding drinkable water. Brigid soaked in all that learning but ignored even more. She seemed to have no interest at all in language. And she would change the subject or just wander off if anyone started to talk about lore, law, songlines or anything related to cultural knowledge. She wasn’t even interested in stories of her father.
Albert replied, ‘We can’t force her to listen. Perhaps once she’s learnt all the things she’s so keen to know, then she’ll be more receptive to the rest.’
‘I’m not sure she ever will be. That one is on a mission, all right. It’s that fella, the girls’ father. All she wants is to learn what she needs to keep on walking, keep on looking. She’s not going to be here for too much longer.’
‘Brigid is stubborn. Remember what her father was like at that age? I reckon they both get that from you, old woman,’ Albert chuckled.
Vic flicked a tea towel at his head, hitting him lightly before going back inside. As the door shut, Albert heard her laugh.
Because her granddaughter wouldn’t listen, Nana Vic turned her attention to her great-granddaughters. She believed that Brigid had been yearning to leave for some time. Her granddaughter would have left sooner, if not for Maggie. Unlike Victoria who, like a thin-legged colt, had been walking at an uncannily early age, Maggie took her time learning to stand on her own two legs. This gave Nana Vic more time to infuse her sweet bubbas with the fragrance of essential stories.
When bathing them, she’d tell them stories of animals and plants. Each had its own story, of its origin and purpose. As Maggie and Victoria lay down to sleep, the old lady would whisper tales of celestial serpents and seven starry-sisters. She would fill their ears with maps, instructions and long-held lore. If they misbehaved, Nana Vic would tell them about sharptoothed beings that lived in watery caves, and other ancient beings that craved tasty children. The babes’ eyes widened, soaking it all in before asking for more.
Knowing that time was against her, Nana Vic took every chance she could to top up Brigid’s survival skills. To add to what Albert had shown her. She taught her the signs of bad health, and the causes. Her granddaughter refused to believe there were places where spirits lurked, ones that could cause someone to become ill. She thought being fearful of whistling in the dark was just foolish nonsense. The old woman sighed.
Instead, she showed her how to find the right leaves for the smoking that cleansed a person. She told her about dryness and death. She spoke of how to stay healthy, how to be safe, how to care for the young ones proper way. She showed Brigid how to harvest the good plants, the ones used for medicine. Nana Vic showed her all this, and more. Most of it Brigid took in. Except if Nana Vic tried to teach her language or lore. Then Brigid would ignore her. Occasionally, the young woman would still speak of her granny, and retell that most peculiar tale of dirt-encrusted potatoes.
Brigid and her daughters stayed through the wet season. And then through months of dust. They stayed for a few cycles of rain and dust. Until one day, as water soaked into the desert and bright flowers bloomed overnight, Brigid felt a warm wind sweep through the community. As that gust flew out over the red landscape, she once more felt that old restlessness for her lost beau. The next time a truck drove into the community, she’d already packed her worn suitcase. And another that had been given to her, for the twins clothes, along with a cloth bag for cooking utensils.
Her grandparents knew it was pointless trying to persuade her to stay. They were well aware of their granddaughter’s stubborn streak, inherited from their son. Albert helped Brigid carry the suitcases and placed them in the back of the truck. Nana Vic’s favourite digging stick poked out from the cloth bag and Albert pushed it back in. The driver started up the truck, warming the motor before the long drive.
‘Wait,’ called Albert as he scuttled back inside the house.
When he returned, he was carrying his rifle. He handed it to Brigid, who seemed confused.
Realising what her grandfather’s intentions were, she stated, ‘No. It’s yours.’
‘Those young ones will need good tucker to help them grow strong. Digging for small animals and roots is not going to fill them up. You’re a good hunter. I know you’ll use this well.’
Brigid nodded and took the gun. While Grandfather Albert patted Brigid’s shoulder, her grandmother fussed one more time over Maggie and Victoria. The old couple knew they’d never see them again. Brigid gave Nana Vic a quick hug, before climbing into the truck’s cabin with her two sleepy daughters. She did not look back as the truck drove out of the small community in the desert.
The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist