The White Girl

Tony Birch

The White Girl
University of Queensland Press
1 September 2020

The White Girl

Tony Birch

Odette Brown has lived her whole life on the fringes of a small country town. Raising her granddaughter Sissy on her own, Odette has managed to stay under the radar of the welfare authorities who are removing Aboriginal children from their communities. When the menacing Sergeant Lowe arrives in town, determined to fully enforce the law, any freedom that Odette and Sissy enjoy comes under grave threat. Odette must make an impossible choice to protect her family.

In The White Girl, Tony Birch has created memorable characters whose capacity for love and courage are a timely reminder of the endurance of the human spirit.       


In post-World War II Deane, a rural Australian town, Odette Brown cares for her granddaughter Sissy. They live on Deane’s fringes, in a run-down mining area called Quarrytown, where the local police officer, soon to retire, often fails to enforce the Aborigines Protection Act. Odette and Sissy subsequently fly under the radar of the authorities, who still regularly, forcibly take fair-skinned Aboriginal children away from their families. But the arrival of a malicious new sergeant, intent on tightening the system’s grip on the few remaining Aboriginal families in the area, threatens to disrupt Odette and Sissy’s life together.

The overwhelming thought one has while reading award-winning author Tony Birch’s new novel is that there will be so many of these stories that have never been told; never heard. Thousands of families have been torn apart, and more children have been taken from parents than can most likely ever be fully known about, the stories of whom will often be lost and fade away. Odette and Sissy may be fictional characters, but their story, loss and heartache are very real. The White Girl’s major strength lies in its ability to cause the reader to not just pause and reflect, but to listen. It is essential that stories like these are heard.

Birch knows his story and characters well. His prose is beautifully handled and speaks with real, authentic pain but is restrained, never overbearing. The setting is evocative and deftly drawn; the symbolism of a rundown junkyard and a dying river flowing through the isolated town, a deep gash in the fractured landscape, is potent and elegant. The White Girl will resonate with readers, and it will rightly sit with them for a long time after the last page is turned.

Georgia Brough is the digital content coordinator for Readings.

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