Award for Indigenous Writing Shortlist
Title: The Upwelling
Author: Lystra Rose
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Two warring spirits.
One chance to save the world.
Kirra is the great-granddaughter of a truth dreamer, and, like Great Nanna Clara, no-one believes her night-visions are coming true. When an end-of-the-world nightmare forces her to surf where her brother was killed, she time-slips into a place that could ruin her life, here, and in the Dreaming.
Narn is the son of a well-respected Elder and holds an enviable role in his saltwater clan. Though he bears the marks of a man, many treat him like an uninitiated boy, including the woman he wants to impress.
Tarni is the daughter of a fierce hunter and the custodian of a clever gift. Somehow, she understands Kirra when no-one else can. But who sent this unexpected visitor: a powerful ancient healer or an evil shadow-spirit?
When death threatens all life, can a short-sighted surfer, a laidback dolphin caller and a feisty language unweaver work together to salvage our future?
The Upwelling by Lystra Rose has created an expansive world of fantasy speculative fiction with the ability to not only raise the bar for young adult fiction but also to shift the understanding and perceptions of Aboriginal people prior to colonisation.
Rose incorporates language and cultural practise seamlessly into The Upwelling in a way that not only challenges the colony’s understanding of us as primitive hunter gatherers but also acts as a process of language and cultural reclamation. While rejecting the colony’s imagining of her people she also provides Yugambeh people with a text that allows for language practise and cultural engagement. The presence of our languages in accessible texts with engaging and relatable narratives is an excellent strategy of resistance and reclamation, particularly when invested in our young people.
Further, rarely do we see texts or representations of Aboriginal people prior to colonisation with three-dimensional characters. Rose brings us into the worlds and perspectives of young Yugambeh people living either within this current time frame or prior to colonisation. She draws ancestral and spiritual connections between them while also slowly developing friendship. The young characters are flawed, argumentative, idealistic and relatable teens with families, crushes, school bullies and the weight of responsibility as they enter adulthood. Rose manages to create characters with magical abilities and skills while also rejecting the imagining of the ‘noble savage’. She brings humanness and relatability into these characters in a way that has been historically denied to us, rejecting the colony’s description of the two-dimensional native and asserting ourselves in the telling of our peoples’ stories and imaginings from our own informed perspectives.
The Upwelling by Lystra Rose is a well-structured, descriptive, and expansively imaginative text with an assertion of cultural reclamation and a powerful subversion of the colony’s imaginings of us.
Chapter 1: Kirra
Can’t trust friends.
Can’t trust counselling sessions.
Most importantly, can’t trust who this secret is forcing me to become. I trudge along the path to my high school admin block – thanks, Nan, for ruining my life with therapy.
‘Kooky Kirra,’ a classmate sniggers from behind. I stick to my usual plan: keep my head down and motor away. ‘Kook Kirra has no –’
‘She can’t be a kook,’ a male voice interrupts. ‘You seen her surf? She rips.’
I’m tempted to check who’s sticking up for me but then he adds, ‘Cracked Kirra works better – ’specially if she needs weekly therapy. My brother doesn’t go that much and he’s suicidal.’
‘Shut up, Shawn,’ the first voice says. ‘Suicide’s not funny. And you can’t surf for –’
‘Cursed Kirraahhh,’ booms down the path, and my foot Falcon hits the accelerator. Don’t want to cop another insult from the school’s loudmouth. Wish Mel hadn’t chucked a sickie; she would’ve given them a mouthful, spiced with a few F-bombs. My heartbeat increases with my pace, but Loudmouth’s words bail me up.
‘Whatever she touches is cursed. Her mum: dead. Brother: dead. And her father works in the mines to get away from her. Watch out, Granny, you’re the last one left.’
Loudmouth used to be my friend. Used to live across the street. Used to be puppy-eyed shy. I swing open the office door and launch inside, hoping to avoid her Rottweiler aggression. A waft of air-con collides with the clinging heat and cools the beads of sweat on my skin.
Squinting to stop the fake breeze from plastering my contacts to my eyeballs, I kinda freeze. The door shuts. I’m too late. Their insults flood in.
‘Cursed Kirra will get you killed!’
‘Careful,’ the kook-caller says, ‘she might put a blackfella curse on you.’
Loudmouth roars with laughter, ‘Nah, her granny was fostered by whites. I’d know more about her culture than she does.’
And I gulp back two hundred years of genocide and White Australia policy and Stolen Generations and every town’s segregation line marked by ‘Boundary Street’ and government law banning us from speaking language and practising culture, and a slippery, hollow truth that she’s probably right about Nan.
‘Truth!’ they snarl as if they’re mind readers, and a slap-slap-slap repeats as Loudmouth, no doubt, hi-fives her siccable bitch-pack. Their carry-on rings through the admin courtyard, then seeps under the office door. When their taunting ends, it somehow still haunts me.
The school administrator, with a phone pressed to her ear, swishes her hand for me to take a seat. I slouch into one in the corner away from the goldfish-bowl windows.
If my plan works, today’s session will be different: lifechanging different. And if the truth can’t convince them, I’ll surrender to their lies.
The receptionist covers the end of her phone. ‘Kirra?’ A smile pops on her face like an emoji on a screen. ‘You can go in now.’
‘Thanks,’ I lie. I’m as thankful as a vegan winning a meat tray, but I keep my head down and scurry to the counselling room.
Mrs Furroway cradles a coffee cup. There’s nothing wrong with her (no warts or broomstick). She’s a clichéd career spinster: bottle-blonde hair shaped into a notone-strand-out-of-place bob, French-manicured nails, and smothers awkward silences with porcelain-veneered smiles.
‘Hello, Kirra. Please come in, close the door and have a seat.’
I slump onto a plastic chair opposite her ridiculously large desk. The air-con rattles, so does the wasp nest inside me. The stinging and swarming has begun.
‘Kirra, your hair looks lovely. Did you colour it?’ She places her mug down, thuds my file onto her desk (real old-school), and sports a synchronised-swimmer’s smile – perfectly held throughout her whole routine.
‘No, it’s always been brown.’
Nothing changes in my life: brown hair, brown eyes, brown skin. I stare at my hands, which can’t stop fidgeting. Well, lighter brown than Nan and Dad ’cos of Mum’s European genes, but I’m the brownest in this room.
Mrs F slurps coffee, and I can’t help smirking at the tacky lipstick smeared across her front teeth. I want to tell her but she’s slurping more coffee, adding red marks to the rim of her World’s Best Counsellor mug. Seriously?
Furroway opens my file, orders her wad of notes, then checks out my hair again.
‘I never wear it out,’ I blurt, as my fingers comb my knotted waves.
‘Ahh – that’s what it is. It suits you.’
I smooth the strands into a ponytail, secure a hairband ’round it and wait for Mrs F’s next predictable question: surf-related.
‘Did you see that surfer on the news with that horrible fin chop?’
There it is, I think, before I mutter three octaves below an old person’s hearing range, ‘He was a bodyboarder.’ Wanting her to feel as uncomfortable with small talk as I do, I add, ‘I’m surprised you know what a fin chop is – you seen one up close?’
‘Yes, yes, ghastly thing.’
She squirms through her reply at Melbourne-Cuprace-caller speed: ‘My brother had a terrible fin chop when he was about your age. I drove him to hospital. He had thirteen stitches across his forehead to the top of his head in the shape of a “C”. I’d tease him that the ocean had tattooed the first letter of his name on his head.’ She giggles – a kid’s laugh, not a woman who’s ready for retirement – then, between cackles, says, ‘He couldn’t grow hair there again.’
Never heard Furroway laugh. What is in that coffee? Never thought of her having a brother either, ’specially one that surfed. Figured Furroway was more of a loner surrounded by cats she’d rescued from hessian bags. Might’ve misjudged her.
‘Your brother still surf?’
‘Wouldn’t know,’ she replies, and switches into therapy mode with her well-enunciated words. ‘Let’s just say, people are not his forte.’
Another gulp of coffee and her pen’s in hand. It’s time for business: ‘How can I help today?’
I shift in my seat and hope Furroway, with her gaudy red lippy, can somehow help me. If I could talk to anyone else, I would. Tried talking to Nan six months ago, and this is where ‘truth’ got me. I have no-one else. Even Mel would bail, like everyone did when Great Nanna Clara was alive. If the world wasn’t gonna end, I wouldn’t be here. And I can’t go head-to-head with Nan about this again. Where would I live if she threw me out? Maybe I am cursed.
About the author
Lystra Rose, a descendant of the Guugu Yimithirr, Birri Gubba, Erub and Scottish nations, is an award-winning writer and editor who lives in a land where the rainforest meets the sea… Yugambeh-speaking country (Gold Coast), Australia. When she’s not catching waves with her husband and their two groms, Lystra is editing Surfing Life magazine and is the executive producer of Surfing Life TV (globally broadcasted on Fuel TV). She is the first female editor-in-chief of a mainstream surf magazine in the world. Surfing is Lystra’s daily reminder to ‘let fear be your friend, not your foe, and use it to do the things you love or were meant to do’. It’s also her creativity generator.
The Upwelling is Lystra’s debut novel.
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