When Jo Breen uses her divorce settlement to buy a neglected property in the Byron Bay hinterland, she is hoping for a tree change, and a blossoming connection to the land of her Aboriginal ancestors. What she discovers instead is sharp dissent from her teenage daughter, trouble brewing from unimpressed white neighbours and a looming Native Title war between the local Bundjalung families. When Jo unexpectedly finds love on one side of the Native Title divide she quickly learns that living on country is only part of the recipe for the Good Life.
Told with humour and a sharp satirical eye, Mullumbimby is a modern novel set against an ancient land. A darkly funny novel of romantic love and cultural warfare from one of Australia’s most admired Indigenous voices.
Melissa Lucashenko is a Goorie novelist whose work celebrates Aboriginal people and others living around the margins of the First World. Her novel Mullumbimby longlisted for the 2014 Miles Franklin Literary Award and Stella Prize, shortlisted for the Kibble Prize, and won the 2013 Queensland Literary Award for Fiction and the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Award for Indigenous Writing. Melissa is also a Walkley Award winner for her non-fiction, and is a founding member of Sisters Inside, a groundbreaking organization which supports criminalised women in Queensland.
Goorie woman Jo Breen has gone the long way around the question of Aboriginal land rights and has purchased her own piece of Bundjalung country, in the beautiful northern hinterland of Byron Bay. In the opening scene of this funny and thought-provoking novel, Jo is working at her job: in metaphors that get quietly more powerful as you think about them, Jo is a singer who no longer sings, now the caretaker of the Mullumbimby Cemetery, where generations of white settlers and their descendants lie dead and buried in Bundjalung land where Jo keeps their graves neat and mows the grass that grows above them.
The conflict at this novel’s heart is between two Aboriginal claimants to land rights, with Jo as observer. This novel is a passionate, warm-hearted and accessible exploration of the Aboriginal relationship to country, a concept that many white Australians still don’t grasp. The political messages are clear, but they are never allowed to swamp the characters or pull the story out of shape; Lucashenko writes about Australia’s race-relations history with generosity and grace. In focusing on a conflict between competing Aboriginal claims, Mullumbimby is doing important cultural work in quietly dismantling the notion, still pervasive in white Australia, that Aboriginal Australia is homogeneous in its beliefs and opinions, in its languages and in its identity. This kind of differentiation in literature and art among not only various Aboriginal groups but also among conflicting attitudes, politics, claims and beliefs is potentially taking Australia’s understanding of itself to another level.