“Heart of the Grass Tree” by Adelaide writer Molly Murn is an exquisite, searing and hope-filled debut novel set on KI about mothers and daughters and family stories, about country and its living history.
Molly, who first started visiting KI as a child and whose family now has a holiday home at Island Beach, will be launching her novel at KI Spirits on Saturday, February 16 from 3pm. She will talk about the novel and her own KI experiences. Everyone is invited to the free event.
The novel takes place all over the Island but the main protagonist Nell lives at King George Beach, a special place for the Murn family too. Locals will also recognise Pelican and Murray lagoons, Antechamber Bay and the Cygnet River.
“As a child I was fascinated with the place, its uncluttered it was and also going across the water to get there,” she said. “As an adult I’ve fallen for its landscape, its people and the feel of the place.”
Poetically written, it beautifully unfurls the shared history between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people on Kangaroo Island, and delves into the complexities of this little known story.
When Pearl’s grandmother Nell dies unexpectedly, Pearl and her family – mother Diana, sister Lucy – return to KI to mourn and farewell her. Each woman must reckon with Nell’s passing.
But Nell had secrets, too, and as Pearl, Diana and Lucy confront their feelings about the island, Pearl starts to pull together the scraps Nell left behind in stories, poems and paintings. She unearths a connection to the island’s violent 1820s history between European sealers and their stolen Aboriginal “wives”.
The women learn of Nell’s Ngarrindjeri lover, Sol, the scandal of a baby and its abrupt removal, and of Sol’s forebears, Emue, William and Maringani, who lived in the Island’s sealing community of the early 1800s.
Molly consulted with Ngarrindjeri elders at the Camp Coorong Cultural Centre, to listen to their perspectives, and learned of their overwhelming concern about the gaps left when sealers stole their women, before SA’s official settlement in 1836. She weaves together three timelines in an intergenerational story of family, love and motherhood.
“In writing this novel, I wanted to explore a fraught moment in frontier violence as a site for cross-cultural exchange, and to make a literary gesture towards acknowledging and reconciling with our shared history. But I wanted to ground this larger narrative in a story about families—where the repercussions of silence, of keeping quiet, show up as terrible and beautiful scars.”
Molly Murn is a poet, author and bookseller. She works at Matilda Bookshop and lives in the Adelaide Hills.
She holds a Bachelor of Dance, a Masters of Creative Arts, and is completing a PhD in Creative Writing at Flinders University.