Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 11, 2021

Where the Fruit Falls, by Karen Wyld

Karen Wyld’s Where the Fruit Falls came my way via a session called ‘The View from Country’ at the Margaret River Writers Festival.  The theme of the session was that storytelling is a strong cultural tradition in the Indigenous community, a way of teaching knowledge, honouring Country, and reinforcing community bonds, and also been a powerful tool for sharing testimonies that have been historically silenced.

Taking the form of a family saga, Where the Fruit Falls tells the story of four generations, beginning with an Irishwoman’s migration to Australia.  Maeve Cliona Devlin has four grandchildren: three blue-eyed, freckled, light-haired grandsons from her daughter Margaret’s marriage to Frank Browne, and her dark-skinned granddaughter Brigid from Margaret’s earlier liaison with an Indigenous man called Edward who died during the war.  When the story begins Maeve is an old woman, and it is Brigid who is caring for her in her dying days.

Symbols are used throughout the narrative to amplify the multi-facetted ways that skin-colour is used to define and divide.  The trees of the title refer to the apple tree seeds that Brigid’s Irish grandmother brought to Australia; and the bush apple (Bloodwood) birthing tree to which Brigid is guided by her Aboriginal grandmother.  Both grandmothers love and accept their granddaughter’s mixed-race identity, but Maeve tries to comfort Brigid when she is teased at school by telling Brigid that she was like a little potato; her skin might be brown like the earth, but inside she was just like everyone else. (p.12)

Birds signal coming events. According to Maeve, who knew the secret language of birds, there were two types:

…those that led you to good fortune, and those that led to no good.  It was almost impossible to tell the two apart, usually not until it was too late. (p.16)

The third of a conspiracy of ravens are a premonition of death; but the Willy Wag-tail demands Brigid’s attention and is the catalyst for her epic journey to find a place to belong.

Days of walking follow, which reminded me of the epic journey depicted in Philip Noyce’s 2002 film Rabbit-Proof Fence, except that those girls knew they were walking home.  Brigid doesn’t know where she’s going, or even if there is a home for her anywhere.  However, she meets a young man called Danny, and is barely eighteen when she gives birth to twins — light-skinned Maggie and dark-skinned Victoria (Tori).  Brigid, Maggie, and Victoria are all outsiders, and all experience racism in different ways: in this way the author shows that Aboriginality is not about skin colour. Brigid is judged for associating with Aboriginal people although she does not know (or accept) their ways.  Maggie identifies as Aboriginal but her light skin means that she is judged by others to be white.  She is deeply hurt when dark-skinned Victoria says she does not understand the daily impact of racism in the way that she does, but she knows it’s true.

Photography is a sinister phenomenon in the novel.  Desperate for work, Brigid takes work as a housekeeper for a photographer, only to find that she can’t escape from his pornographic representation of race and violence.  Tragedy ensues, and later, her daughters find themselves enmeshed in the way his sordid work has value in the art world.

In a lament for the Stolen Generations, the girls and their mother have an unmitigated sense of confusion, alienation and longing for family. Separated from their culture and community, they yearn to belong.  So they search for kin and Country, without really knowing what it might be, and not recognising it—sometimes even rejecting it—when they stumble across the language and lore that is theirs by birthright.

Reconciliation, however, is possible.  Tori has, for a long time, held onto a silver pendant that belonged to her mother Brigid.  It was fashioned from a seed from the first apple tree to bear fruit in Australia.  It is not until the last pages of the book that Tori reveals it to Maggie, because she hasn’t been ready to wear it.  The last page of the book is Margaret’s apology to Brigid for failing her.  She stood aside and let Granny Maeve raise her daughter, when she should have taught Brigid how to withstand the hate from people who wouldn’t accept difference.

I should have wrapped you in love.  I regret not having properly prepared you for the world you’re about to venture into. (p. 337)

The Apology to the Stolen Generations was long overdue when Kevin Rudd rose to open the 40th Parliament of Australia by saying Sorry.  As I write this, I am currently reading Finding the Heart of the Nation by Thomas Mayor, which is about the journey of the Uluru Statement towards Voice, Treaty and Truth.  Let’s hope it doesn’t take so long to achieve the aims of that document….

Karen Wyld is of Martu descent, from people of the Pilbara region in Western Australia

Author: Karen Wyld
Title: Where the Fruit Falls
Publisher: UWAP (University of Western Australia Press), 2020
ISBN: 9781760801571, pbk., 344 pages
Source: Personal library, purchased from Readings $27.99

 


Responses

  1. You have been reading a lot of really interesting Indigenous writing. So many books, so little time. haah

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I bought this last year, but it is still on the ILW TBR! Later this year, or maybe next?!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This sounds very powerful. I like novels that manage to tackle huge themes in a very human way, through the characters. This sounds like Wyld manages exactly that.

    Like

    • That’s what I like too, I like to learn something every time I read.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you Lisa for sharing your interesting perspective on Karen Wyld’s novel. The symbolism of the birds, seeds, and trees was perceptive. Your critique of the birds reminds me of a scene in the novel Sula by the late Toni Morrison where the appearance of black robins in the Bottom community was an indication of return and death of the protagonist. Multigenerational sagas can be engaging to read, depending on the context of the story. Colorism is not only steeped in racism but its social ramifications have fractured tribal bonds among Aboriginal communities.

    I would like to recommend novels and memoirs centered on familial relationships that are reminiscient of Wyld’s novel:
    Sula by Toni Morrison (U.S.)
    Homegoing by Yaa Gaaysi (Ghana/U.S.)
    The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande (Mexico/U.S.)
    Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros (U.S.)
    Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe, formerly known as Rhodesia)
    The Space Between Us: A Novel by Thrity Umrigar (India)
    The Winged Seed: A Remembrance by Li-Young Lee (Asia/U.S.)
    Surviving the White Gaze: A Memoir by Rebecca Carroll (U.S.)
    Ladysitting: My Year with Nana at the End of Her Century by Lorene Cary (U.S.)
    In the Country of Women: A Memoir by Susan Straight (U.S.)
    Of Ashes and Rivers that Run to the Sea by Marie Munkara (Australia)
    Becoming Kirrali Lewis by Jane Harrison (Australia)
    The House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul (Trinidad)
    Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (India/U.S.)

    Like

    • That’s a great list of books! I’ve read A House for Mr Biswas and Sula, and I have Nervous Conditions and Homecoming on the TBR. The saga lends itself to the issue of intergenerational trauma, but it’s a difficult form to sustain and maintain reader interest over many pages.

      Like


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