DIAMOND DOVE - Adrian Hyland
Emily Tempest, drawn back to Central Australia and to the place she grew up, Moonlight Downs, instantly feels at peace with the Warlpuju people. Here are her best friend Hazel and Hazel's father Lincoln Flinders, a much respected tribal elder. The Warlpuju have always been her mob and Moonlight Downs her Country. Emily was instantly accepted and included from childhood even though she is the daughter of a white man and a Wantiya women. She's done her fair share of walkabout since she left the Downs and the mob were driven off by the last station owner, so this is her first return since the successful land claim that returned this traditional land to its traditional owners.
When Lincoln is brutally murdered just hours after Emily's return, the easy suspect is Blakie Japanangka. Wild man, savage protector of tradition and guarder of sacred sites, Blakie is known to everyone as a bit of a nutter. Since her return Emily has seen Blakie arguing with Lincoln more than once and the manner of Lincoln's death seems to indicate a ritual killing, maybe because of some broken taboo. When the local police arrive from nearby town Bluebush, the hunt for Blakie is on straight away. But Blakie's from this Country, he knows it like the back of his hand, and after a clumsy attempt by the police to grab him, he disappears into the scrub. In the meantime the mob moves off Moonlight Downs, lost and looking for leadership they slowly move to the squatter camps outside Bluebush. Even Emily, despite swearing she never would, ends up working in a pub in Bluebush, living in a flat in town and still pursuing what happened to Lincoln with a single minded intent that gets up the nose of a lot of people very quickly. The appearance of Earl Marsh, the big, brash and offensive owner of the station next door to Moonlight Downs and the slimy government representative Massie eventually make Emily question her pursuit of Blakie, even though Police Sergeant Tom McGillivray doesn't agree.
DIAMOND DOVE is an aboriginal novel written by a white man who has spent many years working with communities in Central Australia. The Warlpuju mob is an invention by the author, based on a number of different groups in that area. Much of the Aboriginal terminology though can be found in languages to the north of Alice Springs. DIAMOND DOVE is a reference to the totems of both Lincoln and Hazel, woven through the story. It's an interesting choice for a white man to write an affectionate, funny, telling story which is so strongly imbued with a sense of Aboriginal Culture and Country.
One of the major strengths of DIAMOND DOVE is that interwoven with the mystery of Lincoln's death is a wonderful, sensitive and enlightening glimpse into realistic contemporary Aboriginal life. There's explanations of totems, taboo, sacred places, familiar structure and relationships, lifestyle, skin names, taboo names, traditional tribal structures and the effect of country. There's some telling insights into the differences between the white community and the local Aboriginal communities – in and around the town of Bluebush and outside it, at the stations and in the mining communities. There's also some fabulous and frankly hilarious observations of a redneck outback Australian country town that will have you crying with laughter. There's even a touch of Outback Mechanic – with fuel being fed into wrecks of old cars from tins tied on the roof! Hyland has got a real knack of writing the dialogue in a lyrical manner, that reads with the lilt that you get when Aboriginal speakers move to and from their own Language and English. There's something in that speech pattern that echoes the bush and for this reader, those dialogue sequences were a real joy to read.
DIAMOND DOVE is a novel where a lot of major components merge really well. The characterisations are fabulous. Emily is strong, loud, opinionated, flighty, caring, ratty, forthright, independent and kind and she feels very female, very current day Aboriginal to this reader at least. Tom McGillivray is your classic outback cop – done it, seen it, nothing surprises anymore. Hazel is an Aboriginal woman, living as close to a traditional lifestyle as she can, comfortable in that choice. Other members of the mob are more clearly caught between a Traditional life and the supposed lure of the white culture. There is a supporting cast who are sketched out beautifully, either in brief cameo appearances or as a larger part of the story. The mystery is intriguing, the manner and style of Lincoln's death adding that possibility of ritual and therefore something deeply Aboriginal as a possibility. The sense of place or setting for the novel wins on a number of levels. There is Central Australia and the differences between the deserts and the outback and the small town worlds. There is also Aboriginal Central Australia with the totem elements, the sacred places and the hidden places. Finally there is humour, dry, ironic, sardonic, rude, pointed and observational.
DIAMOND DOVE hints at the beginnings of an ongoing series, and Emily would be a great entrant in a long line of amateur Female Investigators. It is highly recommended.
The Diamond Dove is one of the smallest pigeons found predominantly around areas of water in semi-arid areas of Central, West and Northern Australia. They are very delicately marked around the eyes, are often seen on the ground in a toddling sort of run, and their wings can make a whistling noise when flying. They tend to be seen in pairs or small groups.
This one is definitely going to make my Tops of 2007 - no doubt whatsoever.
Emily Tempest has been away from Central Australia for a long time - uni, travel, dead-end jobs. Finding trouble all over the world. Now she's back at Moonlight Downs, the community where she grew up, half in the Aboriginal world, half in the white. And true to form, there's trouble. An old friend brutally murdered and mutilated. An old enemy the only suspect. Until Emily starts asking questions.
Take a nail-biting mystery, an epic setting and a heroine with a talent for stirring things up. Throw in an affectionate flogging of outback Australia's melanoma-encrusted hide - and Diamond Dove may be the wittiest and most gripping debut of the year.
(Now released overseas under the title Moonlight Downs)