Mullumbimy is Melissa Lucashenko’s fifth novel and is, as the name suggests, set in northern New South Wales. The protagonist, Jo Breen, is an Aboriginal woman who uses her divorce settlement and the money she earns mowing grass at the Mullumbimby cemetery to buy a block of farmland. She sees this as her own way of reclaiming Bundjalung country and the process of returning her land to health is deeply satisfying.
Jo’s life is already complicated by her artistic and moody teenage daughter and becomes more so with the arrival in town of an outsider, Twoboy. Twoboy and his brother are down from Brisbane to initiate a land claim which stirs up a hornet’s nest of conflicting interests in the area. Jo is reluctant to get embroiled in what promises to be a messy fight. Twoboy, however, is dreadlocked, devastatingly handsome, heterosexual and apparently single. This is practically a miracle as far as Jo is concerned.
Jo also has to come to terms with her new neighbours, including the farmer Rob Starr, who wears expensive boots and erects fences where none seem needed and Granny Narrung, an Aboriginal Elder who Jo initially dismisses for her old-fashioned and uptight Christian ways.
The book is full of cheeky humour and witticisms, such as when Jo first sights Twoboy coming out of a bookshop and immediately wants to rush in and find out what he bought, ‘… hoping – please, oh please – that it wasn’t Armistead Maupin.’
I enjoyed the way Lucashenko used Bundjalung words throughout the novel. This added richness to the story and a glossary at the back provides a handy reference. Jo is troubled by how little she knows about the spirituality of Bundjalung culture and is wary of the looming peak of Wollumbin. ‘She knew Wollumbin was strong men’s business, and to be avoided at all costs.’ The difficulty of maintaining Bundjalung culture and links to land is an ongoing theme throughout the book. The fraught issue of native title is also handled with honesty and insight.
This book can be enjoyed simply as a well-told yarn, but particularly for those of us who live in this area, it is so much more. Mullumbimby offers a window into the living Bundjalung culture and the meaning of the Country which I found both moving and enlightening. It is also a page turner – highly recommended.
This is my fourth review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.
Literati on the Gold Coast is on this Friday and Saturday! I will be talking about ‘Character Care and Maintenance’ on Friday with Jessie Cole and Paula Weston and on Saturday I join a lovely cast of romance writers – Helene Young, Anna Campbell and Keri Arthur on ‘A Course of True Love’. If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you.