Song of the Crocodile

Nardi Simpson

Song of the Crocodile
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Song of the Crocodile

Nardi Simpson

“Darnmoor, The Gateway to Happiness. The sign taunts a fool into feeling some sense of achievement, some kind of end- that you have reached a destination in the very least. Yet as the sign states, Darnmoor is merely a gateway, a waypoint on the road to where you really want to be.”

Darnmoor is the home of the Billymil family, three generations who have lived in this ‘gateway town’. Race relations between Indigenous and settler families are fraught, though the rigid status quo is upheld through threats and soft power rather than the overt violence of yesteryear.

As progress marches forwards, Darnmoor and its surrounds undergo rapid social and environmental changes, but as some things change, some stay exactly the same. The Billymil family are watched (and sometimes visited) by ancestral spirits and spirits of the recently deceased, who look out for their descendants and attempt to help them on the right path.

When the town’s secrets start to be uncovered the town will be rocked by a violent act that forever shatters a century of silence.

Full of music, Yuwaalaraay language and exquisite description, Song of the Crocodile is a lament to choice and change, and the unyielding land that sustains us all, if only we could listen to it.     

Review

Song of the Crocodile was the winner of the 2018 blak&write! writing fellowship, which serves to find and develop outstanding unpublished manuscripts by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander writers. Song of the Crocodile is Nardi Simpson’s first book, and 2020 has also seen her debut her first play at the Sydney Festival.

The characters are at the heart of Song of a Crocodile. As an epic multi- generational story, we follow the lives of the Billymil family in Darnmoor (as a fictional town in which the Yuwaalaraay people live, it might be thought of as rural north-western New South Wales). Beginning with Margaret, the story then follows her daughter Celie, then Celie’s daughter Mili, followed by Mili’s husband Wil and their children Paddy and Yarrie. The sharpness of these characters reminded me of Elizabeth Jolley’s writing, and, more recently, the work of Tony Birch. Simpson skilfully weaves in Dreaming and demonstrates the connection between the present and past through ancestral stories and care for nature.

This is a novel that deals with the violence acted upon the Billymil family with such delicacy, that although the novel depicts rape, sexual assault and other violence, this is often described with careful metaphors that place the reader into the characters’ dissociative states of mind. In many ways this mirrors the era Simpson is describing – where the massacre of Indigenous people is seemingly in the past, but the Billymil family and the other families of the Campgrounds outside of town are ultimately rejected by the people of Darnmoor and are subject to ongoing racism. This is a book that, to some extent, explores the anger, boredom and frustration that rigid race relations and colonisation bring to Darnmoor. The Billymils do what they can to survive, pushing against this system just a little further in each generation.

Simpson presents a promising debut, and readers who enjoyed The Yield, The White Girl, and Carpentaria will be drawn in.


Clare Millar works as a bookseller at Readings Hawthorn.

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