Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray: River of Dreams

Anita Heiss

Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray: River of Dreams
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Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray: River of Dreams

Anita Heiss

Gundagai, 1852

The powerful Murrumbidgee River surges through town leaving death and destruction in its wake. It is a stark reminder that while the river can give life, it can just as easily take it away.

Wagadhaany is one of the lucky ones. She survives. But is her life now better than the fate she escaped? Forced to move away from her miyagan, she walks through each day with no trace of dance in her step, her broken heart forever calling her back home to Gundagai.

When she meets Wiradyuri stockman Yindyamarra, Wagadhaany’s heart slowly begins to heal. But still, she dreams of a better life, away from the degradation of being owned. She longs to set out along the river of her ancestors, in search of lost family and country. Can she find the courage to defy the White man’s law? And if she does, will it bring hope … or heartache?

Set on timeless Wiradyuri country, where the life-giving waters of the rivers can make or break dreams, and based on devastating true events, Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray (River of Dreams) is an epic story of love, loss and belonging.

Review

We need more of these stories; more novels that reflect Australia’s colonial past through the eyes of First Nations women. Anita Heiss, award-winning author and proud member of the Wiradjuri Nation of Central NSW, said in the writing of Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray (River of Dreams): ‘Using Wiradjuri language on the cover of my novel (and throughout the text) makes a strong statement … regarding the reclamation and maintenance of the traditional language of my family.’ However, this love story Heiss has written gives us more than just statements; it gives us the means to engage with our past.

Based on true events, Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray centres on the life of Wagadhaany and her life by the powerful and beautiful Murrumbidgee River. While this novel is essentially a story of romance, it also encapsulates an enduring love of Country. When Wagadhaany meets Wiradjuri stockman Yindyamarra (Yindy) they dream of a life away from ‘White Man’s Law’. We already know how that turns out, but along the riverbanks we are privy to their dreams and aspirations. We are shown how life was and how it could have remained.

Heiss’s writing here is different to her past work, and she wants readers to take away some important lessons. This novel is an epic depiction of First People’s lives before and during white colonisers’ brutality. By recalling the past against a backdrop of romance, Heiss’s writing elicits a gut-wrenching response; this is what an excellent writer can do with their stories. With Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray, Heiss has given us a rollicking good read that also offers some important means of reflection.


Chris Gordon is the programming and events manager for Readings.

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