Taboo by Kim Scott

In the time since his last novel, Benang, Kim Scott has been working as a researcher and teacher, focusing on documenting and sharing Noongar language and culture. Scott has shown repeatedly how rejuvenating and teaching Aboriginal languages can connect and support communities that have been historically ignored and abused, and in Taboo he returns to fiction to explore these ideas, which are urgently and universally applicable.

Taboo tells the story of Tilly Coolman, an orphaned young Noongar woman who has suffered abuse and addiction and has now been taken in by her Indigenous family, called Wirlomin. The plot converges on this family’s return to their traditional country, which has been avoided for generations after a massacre took place on what remains a large farm property owned by Dan Harper and his brother, Malcolm. The catalyst for return is the opening of a memorial ‘Peace Park’, which represents efforts from the settler community to move towards reconciliation. Invigorated by a project of sharing Noongar language that began in the local prison, led by Tilly’s father and grandfather, the return to country offers a chance for ‘detox’ – as well as learning language and preparing for the opening of the park, which the Wirlomin people refer to with wry humour.

Though the backstory is dark, Scott’s treatment of his subject paints a picture of regeneration and resilience, with a group of people at the centre of the novel who resist and withstand the forces which are poised to destroy their community through history. Scott’s characters are endearing and tough. Although the ‘bad guy’ of this novel lacks a similar depth, the focus is clearly on survivors of violence rather than its perpetrators. I think this makes it a welcome change from novels about Australian history which read as tragedies from which no one can recover.

Taboo is a pressingly important novel, and it is engrossing to read, with a warmth and pace that reminded me of Scott’s excellent first novel, True Country. I highly recommend it.

George Delaney works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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Kim Scott

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