As soon as I saw the title of this book, I immediately felt nostalgic. I grew up in red dirt country myself; I love the vibrant colour of the red dirt and the way it sticks to your skin. I know what it’s like living in a small town where gossip spreads like wildfire and coming from an Indigenous family I always love being intrigued by the mysteriousness of the old people and their knowledge, with them only telling you as much as you need to know.
All of these things Jacqueline Wright infused into her story.
Red Dirt Talking is set in the north west of Western Australia amongst the red dirt, spinifex and relentless heat in the town of Ransom and the Aboriginal community of Yindi. It’s centred around the mysterious disappearance of Kuj, a young, blind Aboriginal girl which has people gossiping. It seems everyone has a story to tell. Annie is an anthropology graduate who goes to Yindi to do research on the Rumble Crossing massacre. She wants to interview the people of Yindi because she believes that she can give them a voice and get their story out. But she quickly becomes frustrated as the old people won’t talk to her about the massacre and the deadline to her research study looms. Annie learns with the help of Mick, Yindi’s project officer and the women she becomes friends with at the art centre, to listen instead to their silence. While the key to discovering what happened to Kuj may be within the snippets of info Annie has gathered.
The story interchanges between two narrators. Maggot, the local garbage collector from Ransom is in 1st person and tells the story after Kuj has disappeared. Annie is in 3rd person and tells the story leading up to her disappearance and towards the end their timelines meet up. I found that I really liked this style of narrating; it was combined together really well. While some parts of the story appeared as interviews that Annie had transcribed.
The theme was a combination of cross cultural issues and mystery. But the main message that I took away from the story was communication. It was shown throughout the story in various forms like gossip, research, storytelling, interviews, Muwarr language, and connections between people.
But specifically and what I think is the most important part of good communication, listening.
She is reminded how listening is an important human trait, but not any old sort of listening. What the artists say is so inextricably intertwined with what they don’t say. She begins listening to the silences as much as she listens to the story; a huge, unspoken presence resides there and it wields enormous power. She recalls how she often padded out those silences with her own interpretations when she first arrived at Yindi. How many stories about Aboriginal people are out there, she wonders, their silences filled with the stories of others?
Red Dirt Talking won the TAG Hungerford award and was long listed for the Miles Franklin. You can see that Jacqueline spent many years working within Aboriginal communities. It shows in her writing that she has an understanding of Aboriginal people and respect for their culture.
This is why I thoroughly enjoyed Red Dirt Talking; it had a mixture of interesting characters, a sense of humour, a touch of romance and focused on cross cultural issues. The story kept me intrigued with what might have happened to Kuj; even her blindness is a little mystery itself.
My Rating: 5/5