Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 7, 2017

There’ll Be New Dreams, by Philip McLaren

Philip McLaren, a Kamilaroi man from the Warrumbungle Mountain region in northwestern New South Wales, is a most extraordinarily versatile author:  Wikipedia tells me that he’s an academic with a Doctor of Creative Arts degree at Southern Cross university, lecturing in Canada, England, France, Spain, Germany, New Zealand and of course Australia.  He writes literary fiction, detective stories and thrillers, and also non-fiction, social commentary, screenplays and academic essays. Of his seven novels, I’ve read Sweet Water, Stolen Land (see my review).  Alas WP doesn’t tell me which four have been translated and distributed internationally.  He’s won the David Unaipon award (in 1992) and the 2010 Prix Litteraire des Recits de l’ailleurs (a French prize for foreign literature).

But, says Wikipedia, McLaren has also worked as a professional musician and exhibited paintings and sculpture in London, Toronto, Vancouver, Nassau and Sydney.  He’s also

a writer, producer, director and editor in film and television; and previously as a set designer, animator, illustrator, graphic designer and scenic artist for networks NBC, CBS and ABC in the USA; CBC and CTV in Canada and the Seven, Nine and Ten Networks in Australia as well the NZBC in New Zealand. He has amassed well over 100 on-screen credits.

It’s these experiences which enliven the provocatively titled There’ll Be New Dreams.  The books I’ve read about Aboriginal culture have been enlightening about the ways in which the Dreaming lives on in the present, but in McLaren’s novel new dreams and a contemporary sophisticated and sometimes international lifestyle are superimposed on an ancient land and a people keen to be successful survivors of a catastrophic invasion by European settlers.  It’s written in the form of linked short stories about an array of people from different eras and living in different places, but the one constant is their Aboriginal identity.

The Table of Contents brings together what seems at first to be a bewildering confusion: there are eleven dreams, starting with Ralph in Coonabarrabran in 1950 and then in Dream Two his relationship with Lottie in 1952, in 1961, then moving to Redfern in 1961 and 1966, then Parramatta in 1967 and 1969, then back to Redfern in 1973, this period coinciding with the historic referendum in 1967 and the emergence of land rights and other human rights for indigenous people from 1972 onwards.  Dream Three brings us Emma in New York in 1952 and 1953, followed by Dream Four, which starts in La Perouse in 1905, and then back to 32,000 BC in Yabbra, on to Matlong in 1770, back to La Perouse in 1905 and concluding in Woolloomooloo in 1929.  Except that ‘concluding’ is the wrong word to use because as the Dreams progress the reader sees that nothing concludes, everything is connected through time and place and family.

The novel raises many issues, but the most compelling is the premature death of one of the characters in police custody.  But it’s not tackled in a heavy handed way.  While characterisation in depth is not one of the strong points of the novel (not intended to be, IMO), this character like others, has flaws, including some which bring him to the attention of police in the days when they were rarely held to account for the brutality they dished out at whim.  When legal representation becomes available and a police prosecution fails, they are out for revenge and they have long memories.  But his young wife has a long memory too, and she never gives up trying to have the matter properly investigated.  There’ll Be New Dreams is not, as I’ve seen it labelled, a ‘police procedural’, because the interest is in justice as a human right, not a who-or-whydunnit.  And the novel also explores historic injustices of people unknown to authorities such as a good-time-girl (who happens to be indigenous) who is lost overboard and whose death goes unremarked except by the son left without family as a result.

I particularly liked Dream Seven, about the Music Man.  A child prodigy at the violin wows the world, but has difficulty (as child prodigies often seem to do) in maintaining a career and a sense of confidence once the ‘cute little black kid’ factor has waned.  There was a universality about this story as well as particularity about his circumstances as an adopted child.  And I liked Dream Ten, about Dundiway, who makes an astonishing amount of money as a busker in New York and Paris with his didgeridoo.

There’ll Be New Dreams is, as the blurb says, a wild ride:

Sophisticated and profound, human, pacy and funny, There’ll Be New Dreams is a Shuttle-ride of a novel. Philip McLaren gives us a view of the world through realistic, yet highly individualistic characters, in a journey from earthy country town to city rhythm and the wonderful harbour of dreams. A voyage of talent through marriage, official kidnap, family roots, mystic Clevermen, music, art, courtroom battles, the charm of youth and the tragedy that lurks in a darkened alley or a splash of molten metal: Love, choice, chance and hidden forces, those sometimes eerie, somehow right patterns of life, bring the unforgettable Lottie to her ultimate fate. How could a busker on the New York subway have anything to do with this?

I’m not entirely sure that I’ve pulled all the threads together… I knew I should have watched that TV show called Cleverman! but I enjoyed the ride.

ILW 2017This is my fourth book for Indigenous Literature Week 2017.

Author: Philip McLaren
Title: There’ll Be New Dreams
Publisher: Magabala Books, 2001
ISBN: 9781875641765
Source: Personal library, purchased direct from Magabala Books

Availability: Looks to be out of print, even at the publisher’s website. Try Fishpond: There’ll be New Dreams , they may have secondhand copies, usually cheaper than AbeBooks, otherwise Brotherhood Books


Responses

  1. […] see my ANZ LitLovers review […]

  2. Very nice review Lisa. I came across Philip McLauren’s name a few years ago while doing research on Australian Aboriginal writers. I have learned some interesting facts about his multifaceted career based on the review. There’ll Be New Dreams seems to be a captivating book. I wonder if McLauren is at work on a new work of literature. — Sonia

    • Hi Sonia… I don’t know about his recent work. There are two more novels after this one on his Wikipedia page, but there’s no dates so I can’t tell how recent they are. And he doesn’t seem to have a website either…

  3. ‘Dreaming’ seems to me to be overworked as a way of understanding Indigenous culture, so I find the title a bit surprising. But given that both the author and the publisher are Indigenous … Anyway, title aside, it sounds like an interesting novel.


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