Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 2, 2019

The Valley, by Steve Hawke

I bought The Valley on a whim, lured partly by a cover promising a masterfully told epic of the Kimberley and partly because Hawke was an Australian author who’d fallen under my radar.

Though the novel tells the story of successive generations (and includes a family tree), it’s a misnomer to call it a family saga.  It’s structured in a more imaginative way, travelling backwards and forwards across a century that began at a time when the Kimberley was a lawless place and still operated by its own rules in the middle of the 20th century:

Two Bob’s annual pilgrimage always started with a visit to Bertie Ahmad’s camp in Derby.  Bertie had closed down his trading post that catered to the drovers and prospectors and other battlers of an era that had all but disappeared.  But the shopfront had only ever been a part of his business.  He was a go-to man for the bushmen of the Kimberley hinterland with goods of dubious provenance—a station manager doing a little business on the side, or a countryman who had mysteriously come into possession of some item of value.

Billy was no longer up to the trek through the Leopolds to Halls Creek, but still managed to coax a little gold from his secret reef.  Bertie, in retirement on his block behind the meatworks, was happy to receive a visitor like Two Bob, and exchange a stack of grubby notes for some gold flakes.  Money in hand, Two Bob would head up to Elders at a quiet time the next day, load up with stores then head back up the Gibb River Road. (p.96)

You can tell from that excerpt that Two Bob doesn’t want to draw any attention to his journey back to his father Billy Noakes’ refuge in a secret valley.  Billy and Bessie fled there in 1916 after a murder, and they’ve never left.  While their sons Bob (a.k.a Janga and Hamlet) and Two Bob (a.k.a Wajarri and Othello) left as adolescents to make their way in the wider world, their daughter Sarah is too spooked ever to leave.   Billy and Bessie don’t even see their grandchild Milly until Two Bob’s wife Marj is in hospital with diabetes, so Two Bob grasps the opportunity to take her to the valley.  Even Marj doesn’t know of its existence.

Decades later Milly’s adolescent son Dancer falls foul of a bikie gang, and needs to scarper from Broome.  At the same time, his uncle’s funeral brings an ageing Two Bob into town after years with no contact.  He needs help back at Highlands Station, which is in danger of going under.  As Dancer sets off with his father Andy to Highlands station in the back of beyond, he feels uneasy because he has so many unanswered questions about his family, especially the disappearance of his mother when he was only a year old.  But the outback begins to work its magic:

There’s something about the sensation of rolling like a road train down this thin strip of bitumen that helps him deal with the unease that he feels.

The bush is changing.  There are more boabs on either side of the road.  Then they float down a gentle descent and plough along the road’s furrow through what seems a limitless, almost treeless plain dotted with a city of dun-brown anthills.  There is a faint shimmer of the ranges ahead.  It’s a landscape too old and wondrous to concern itself with his problems. (p71)

It isn’t long before Two Bob’s other agenda emerges: he wants to take Andy and Dancer into the valley…

Hawke’s intimate knowledge of the Kimberley and its people derives from his own venture into the area when he was 19.  His profile at the front of the book tells us that was captivated by the country, the history and the people and he stayed for fifteen years working for Aboriginal communities and organisations. Though he now lives in the hills outside Perth he still continues his strong association with the Kimberley, returning most years. Time in this book is only occasionally mentioned by year but more often by landmark events: the persisting fear of light-skinned Indigenous children being stolen; a station-owner decamping to enlist in WW2; the achievement of equal wages in the cattle industry; and the emergence of Land Councils as it becomes possible for Indigenous people to reclaim ownership of traditional lands.  Only later in the book when the arrival of Telecom towers enables phone, fax and TV, are there references to popular music to date the arrival of our own time.

The chronology isn’t linear, conveying both a sense of timelessness and the way that all the characters have to piece together the stories that have shaped them from the past. At times it can be challenging to work out what’s going on but in the end it’s better just to surrender to not knowing until it is—as it is for the characters themselves—judged that the time is right for you to know.

I found it captivating that there could still be places like The Valley that remain wholly off the grid.  But Hawke doesn’t present the place as a romantic hideaway.  It begins as a fortress for a warrior resisting the new way of life brought by European settlement, but with Marralam’s death it becomes more of a refuge from a justice system that could imperil all the members of the family.  As the generations pass through it, the valley becomes a place to escape from into the wider world of opportunities and a prison for those who remain behind, too scared to leave it.

When checking out Fremantle Press, I discovered that Hawke also has a new book called Out of Time. He is also the author of a play about the Bunuba resistance fighter called Jandamarra. Do click the link, the ABC report includes footage of the breathtaking Kimberley area hosting rehearsals for the play’s transition to an choral work to be performed at the Sydney Opera House.

Author: Steve Hawke
Title: The Valley
Publisher: Fremantle Press, 2018, 256 pages
ISBN: 9781925591187
Source: personal library, purchased from Benn’s Books Bentleigh $27.99

Available from Fishpond: The Valley


Responses

  1. I have a copy of his new one, which I might get to in about 10 years’ time given the state of my TBR combined with a reading slump. Did you know he’s Bob Hawke’s son?

    Like

    • Yes, I did know that, but I chose not to mention it because I think it’s hard enough to be the son of someone famous without having it mentioned when it’s got no relevance.
      My library hasn’t got the new one yet…

      Like

      • Oops 😬 Feel free to delete that bit in my comment.

        Like

        • No, it’s ok, people will read my review first and form an opinion before they get to comments anyway:)

          Like

  2. Another book for my TBR mountain. Your review has me wanting to read it right now (which just isn’t going to happen).

    Like

  3. So, showing no self restraint at all, I’ve put a hold on this at my library. Hmm.

    Like

    • *chuckle* I love being a bad influence on the TBR!

      Like

  4. I was going to say Bob’s son. I avoid his work. There are plenty of Indigenous people writing their own stories in WA and I think Stephen Hawke occupies a space that is no longer needed. From memory he was one of those people who loved living up north and ended up as a ‘community advisor’.

    Like

    • Bill, I knew you were going to say something like this!

      Like

      • I feel that too, but what else can I say? My mother would say “If you can’t say anything nice …” but that would strike me dumb.

        Like

        • Well, I respect your feelings, but I don’t see the world in such an inflexible way. I don’t think this writer is ‘taking up space’, there’s plenty of room for Australian stories from all kinds of people. What matters is that *readers* make sure that they read a genuine diversity of voices and then they can place whatever they’ve read in context. More importantly, stories of respectful cross-cultural relationships deserve to be told, and IMO hard-and-fast rules about who gets to tell them are counter-productive. I went to a workshop about this issue, where Bunerong man Bruce Pascoe said (I’m paraphrasing) that it’s necessary in some stories to feature both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people or the story wouldn’t be inclusive of our historical and social reality. The important thing to do is to follow the protocols of the local area that you’re writing about.

          Liked by 1 person


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Categories

%d bloggers like this: