Coonardoo By Katharine Susannah Prichard



It felt like a real privilege to read Katharine Susannah Prichard's book, Coonardoo which was written way back in 1929.  She wrote this book when she went up to the Kimberley's in the North West area of Australia and stayed on a station, Turee.  She was enamoured by what she observed as a writer and was inspired to write about this.  What is most interesting, I found, was that she writes in the indigenous language.  I am not sure if it is actually reflective of the actual dialect of the mob who would have lived there at the time, however, the book is peppered through with the words and sentences, dialogue in the native tongue.  I really enjoyed reading the language and there is a glossary at the back to help along if you need.  It is a celebration of the traditional peoples.  I found it very hard to put this book down, and read it in only a few days.

Coonardoo is a love story between a station owner, Hugh, or Youi as his people know and call him, and Coonardoo.  Hugh, being a white fella, and a station owner of Wytaliba, forbids himself to fully give himself over to her.  This love that is too strong to bear causes pain for him and for the people on his land.  He jeopardises himself, his people, his land and his children (from a white wife who he does marry).

Katharine poses the fantastic concept of love between Aborigines and White people at a time when it was never considered a possibility.  She wrote it into a story, put it on paper, took it from the bush, the outback, into the cities. What happened out in the outback, the land that people rarely went to, was fairly unknown in the cities.

Katharine sexualised the beauty of the woman, Coonardoo, the Aboriginal woman who could be lusted after and loved forever.   There was public outrage when this book was originally published, mainly because she had exposed the exploitation of black women by white men and "..that she wrote of the love, albeit unacknowledged and twisted in on itself between a white man and an Aboriginal woman.." (Introduction by Drusilla Modjeska, 1990).

I found it to be a great love story, full of love and agony.  The restrictions of their separate cultures that both Hugh and Coonardoo imposed on themselves were so wide, that they tore each other apart.

Katharine in her writing shows deep respect for the indigenous people of the time, the role that they played on the stations, the traditions they had and what they had to put up with.  In her writing she shows a tenderness and this is then shown through her character of Youi.  She shows how she saw poor behaviour from white people in the land through other characters in the novel, in their treatment of the 'gins', as second-class citizens.

Katharine paints a beautiful story also of the land, the time, which spans over three generations, and the many varied season.  Her very vivid descriptions bring the reader right into the sparse arid land which is then turn into a lush landscape the minute the drought breaks.

A great read.

xx Meg
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