Review Blog

Jan 09 2012

Crow country by Kate Constable

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Allen and Unwin, 2011. ISBN 9781742373959.
(Ages 12+) Highly recommended. Crime, racism. When a valley near the town of Boort in northern Victoria was flooded to make a dam, secrets were buried under the water, but now, with 10 years of drought, things have been uncovered. The secret is revealed by the crows of the area to newcomer, Sadie, lately moved to Boort with her mother, who remembers the place from her holidays as a child. But Sadie finds the crows talk to her, they direct her feet to the place where the secret lies buried, and when they are about, she time slips, returning to the 1930's when her great grandparents owned a shop in the town's main street. Here she learns of the three mates who fought together on the Western Front during WW1, vowing to keep together when they return home. But one is black, and the resultant racism leads to his death.
The landowner, Mortlock wants to inundate his land, but Jimmy knows the land to be special to the local people and so objects. Sadie, in a different time, sees what happens and how her family is involved. The crows tell her that only she can discover and reveal this secret to give it peace.
This is an amazingly complex story, not only are there brushes with problems of rural Australia, drought, use of water, lack of jobs, the slow demise of rural communities, but Constable has included racism in a way that provokes thought and discussion. The theme of racism is an integral part of the whole, neither overstated or muted but a distinctive and major element of the story. Sadie's relationship with the Aboriginal boy, Walter, and the resultant racism aimed at her, is masterfully told, as is the relationship of her mother and her old flame. The racism that existed three generations before might have been buried but has never gone away. Alongside this stunning story, we see Sadie's developing maturity, of making her own way in the world, of making up her own mind in the narrow confines of a small country town.
This is an evocative story of modern Australia, linked with the past. WW1, the depression of the 1930's, land rights and the treatment of Aboriginal people, particularly those who fought for Australia and returned home unheralded, all mix to make a story well worth the read, both as a class text and a book to read for leisure. Teacher notes are available on Allen and Unwin's website.
Fran Knight

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