It’s a pleasure to take part in the BlogTour The White Girl by Tony Birch. It’s an excellent read. I highly recommend it.
About the Author
Tony Birch is the author of three novels: the bestselling The White Girl, winner of the 2020 NSW Premier’s Award for Indigenous Writing, and shortlisted for the 2020 Miles Franklin literary prize; Ghost River, winner of the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing; and Blood, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2012.
He is also the author of Shadowboxing and four short story collections, Dark As Last Night, Father’s Day, The Promise and Common People; and the poetry collections, Broken Teeth and Whisper Songs. In 2017 he was awarded the Patrick White Literary Award for his contribution to Australian literature. Tony Birch is also an activist, historian and essayist. His website is: tony-birch.com
About the book
“A profound allegory of good and evil, and a deep exploration of human interaction, black and white, alternately beautiful and tender, cruel and unsettling.”—Guardian
Australia’s leading indigenous storyteller makes his American debut with this immersive and deeply resonant novel, set in the 1960s, that explores the lengths we’ll go to save the people we love—an unforgettable story of one native Australian family and the racist government that threatens to separate them.
Odette Brown has lived her entire life on the fringes of Deane, a small Australian country town. Dark secrets simmer beneath the surface of Deane—secrets that could explain why Odette’s daughter, Lila, left her one-year-old daughter, Sissy, and never came back, or why Sissy has white skin when her family is Aboriginal.
For thirteen years, Odette has quietly raised her granddaughter without drawing notice from welfare authorities who remove fair-skinned Aboriginal children from their families. But the arrival of a new policeman with cruel eyes and a rigid by-the-book attitude throws the Brown women’s lives off-kilter. It will take all of Odette’s courage and cunning to save Sissy from the authorities, and maybe even lead her to find her daughter.
Bolstered by love, smarts, and the strength of their ancestors, Odette and Sissy are an indomitable force, handling threats to their family and their own identities with grace and ingenuity, while never losing hope for themselves and their future.
In The White Girl, Miles Franklin Award-nominated author Tony Birch illuminates Australia’s devastating post-colonial past—notably the government’s racist policy of separating Indigenous children from their families, known today as the Stolen Generations—and introduces a tight-knit group of charming, inspiring characters who remind us of our shared humanity, and that kindness, hope, and love have no limits.
I’m not sure about other readers, but when I read a book about minorities, the indigenous of any country, the oppressed or the vulnerable – just as an example, I often presume the events are historical. When I say historical I mean over a century or more, and I am often dismayed by the reality of the actual truth. That for the majority we are talking recent events, in modern times when the world should have been condemning such oppression and atrocities.
Odette is a fictional example perhaps, but I think probably a softer version of the awful truth of the way the colonisers have treated the indigenous people of Australia. This story takes place in the 1960s – a long time after the first early colonial period of certain parts of Australia. In a Podunk rural town where white and indigenous are still segregated. The indigenous people live outside in a specified area and are only allowed into the white town on a specific day and for a short period of time.
Odette takes care of her young granddaughter, who has now reached an age where her presence has become of interest to both the authorities, and she is also vulnerable to the predators who perceive indigenous women especially, as of no worth or chattel of the white man.
The young girl is fair-skinned, and the authorities feel it is their duty to remove those children – white passing – in order to place them in an environment conducive to a less native and savage environment. To save their souls. Odette starts to realise that the danger her family has always faced is starting to wander in the path of her granddaughter.
This book should be on more prize lists – I am surprised it isn’t and that it hasn’t had more traction this side of the pond. It is an incredible piece of work, which is only more admirable when you consider the subtlety of the approach to the sensitive topics in this story. The atmosphere is a stark reminder of reality, and indeed the reader almost walks alongside Odette, that’s how vivid a picture the author presents.
The displacement, essentially kidnap, of whole generations of indigenous of children has burdened further generations with generational trauma. Children who survived the system and never saw their families again, parents who never got over having their children stolen. At this point it is important to note that just recently the reality of what really happened to the majority of these children is being unearthed. The mass graves, the unmarked graves of so many abused and neglected indigenous children. It’s more than a tragedy, it’s a disgrace – absolutely unforgivable.
I wouldn’t hesitate to read or recommend this author after reading this. As I was reading I was envisaging the screen version of this – I would love to see Deborah Mailman make Odette come to life. Either way this story needs more circulation, so more people can read it. It’s poignant, it is a story that grabs you tightly as it tears you into the murky depths of colonial guilt and the criminal atrocities committed under the auspice of malevolent colonialism and white supremacy. And I might add – the author only skims the surface of the aforementioned.