Salk Creek by Lucy Treloar

Reviewed by Teri Davis

Salt CreekMost of us strive for adventure and riches in fulfilling their dreams of the future.

Hester Finch’s grandparents arrived in Australia from England continuing their lives of wealth and status. Unfortunately, for Hester and her siblings, her father has dreams. This was life on her mother’s side of the family who fell in love with a man who was considered beneath her. Yes, he wanted the family to maintain the lifestyle they were accustomed to living.

Having already failed at many prospective investments and opportunities, he decides that the family needs to start over. He chooses a deserted, dry region new Salt Creek in South Australia, uprooting their lives in every aspect with dreams of success and wealth.

For Hester Finch, being the eldest daughter in 1855, many of the household duties fell upon her shoulders as the eldest and most capable female child. Her mother is pregnant and can do longer fulfill these duties due to many pregnancies and aging every year. A mother of many children can only give birth safely for a limited number of years. While her older brothers build their house and work in the fields, it is her responsibility to educate her younger siblings, be responsible for their actions, cook, clean, and care for her mother.

Should any fifteen-year-old be enslaved into an unrewarding never-ending position for possibly the rest of their life?

Socially moving from a successful, wealthy family to becoming a poor and isolated family who is barely surviving is challenging if not depressing to fifteen-year-old Hester. Her problem is how can any fifteen-year old have hope for a future. Is this her permanent life? No hope of love, marriage, children of her own, but just living as the family’s devoted slave? Is this all life has to offer?

The story is seen through Hester’s eyes, both in1855 as the family first relocates to Salt Creek and during 1870 with Hester in England reflecting on her past life.

What is fascinating in the book is the role and importance of women throughout Australia 1855 including the issues of the wealthy Brits, the Native culture, the poor white settlers and people of various backgrounds and perspectives.
Multiple realistic issues are woven into these memorable characters of all ages, gender, race giving the novel authenticity since the story is loosely based on the author’s ancestral history during this time of immense societal change in Australia.

While having wealthy and independent society women, abusive relationships, indentured servitudes, obedient and hard-working wives who only wish to please their husbands unquestionably show the contrast in the female lives and the need of having money.

In contrast are the lives of the aborigines who have never had the privilege of money. These people lived for years off the land and now are losing the few resources for their families to the new white settlers. The problems of land ownership, food sources, and clean water demonstrate constant challenges as well as interracial relationships steeped with prejudices from both sides.
The marriages of the time show multiple changes from marrying for love, to arranged marriages, to forcing a marriage of a family member to pay off debt, being an unwed mother all bring up situations that in some ways are relevant to all time periods. Added to that is a mixed-race children and forcing another to marry to pay off a debt all reflect the people, place, and time.

Salt Creek is author Lucy Treloar’s debut novel based on her family history of her ancestors mixed with the factual history of the region into an enthralling historical fictional novel which was published by Picador in Australia.

Already Salt Creek has been nominated and won several literary awards such as the Indie Award for Best Debut, Miles Franklin Award, The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, and on the long list of nominees for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Salt Creek is a phenomenal tale of change in Australia in the late nineteenth century into an intricately woven tale of a true storyteller.