When Robbi Neal and her family moved from Geelong to the remote Lockhart River Aboriginal community in Cape York to manage the local art centre, their plan was to stay for a year. One year turned into seven and during her stay, Neal (an artist, former Baptist pastor and welfare worker) listened to the life stories of the men, women and children of the community. With the blessing of the elders, Neal retells their stories in After Before Time.
The book’s seven interconnected ‘yarns’ are told with authentic dialogue and based on real people and events with fictional elements thrown into the mix. Neal confronts head-on a number of issues affecting Indigenous people: being uprooted from country and disconnected from culture; life on a mission; the forced removal of children; ‘grog sickness’ and domestic violence.
While heartbreak and loss are at the heart of many of the stories, the enduring, positive message passed down from the elders resonates throughout: ‘Know who you are, never forget and you will be strong. You will have puuya kuntha (strong heart).’ This book will be useful for Australian history and Indigenous studies collections, and for anyone interested in our home-grown stories.
© Paula Grunseit 2016
This review was first published by Books+Publishing