Home, by Larissa Behrendt

The Reverend’s wife had tried to explain to her that she was named after an English Queen. But she loved the feel of her real name as it rolled off her tongue, preferring the way her lips made a ripple, like on a river, to pronounce the third syllable: Ga-ri-boo-li. ‘Elizabeth’ sounded scratchy and high-pitched, like a bird squawk. She would whisper her real name to herself, over and over again, faster and faster. Garibooli. Garibooli. Garibooli.

Garibooli is happy living in the camp with her parents and her precious brother, Euroke, until the day two strange white men come and take her away. Renamed Elizabeth she is sent to work as a housemaid for a privileged white family, never to see her family, or her land, again. In her new home, Garibooli gains the unwanted attention of her master, whose nightime visits soon result in her falling pregnant. When this baby, named after Euroke, is taken away from her, part of Garibooli dies.

In the years that follow, Garibooli makes a new life with her German husband Grigor. They have six children together. Home traces not just Garibooli’s life but also the stories of her children, who are all affected in different ways by Garibooli’s past and by her early death. It is Garibooli’s grandaughter, Candice, a city lawyer who makes the journey ‘home’ to Garibooli’s land and whose journey envelops the book – appearing at the beginning and again at the end.

Home is Garibooli’s story, but is also the story of a family and of a people. Author Larissa Behrendt uses it to humanise the impact of the segregttion and oppression of Aboriginal people in Australia. She does this very powerfully. The reader is drawn in to Garibooli’s struggle to synthesise her past and her present, and to her children’s struggles after they are abandoned by their father following Garibooli’s death.

Behrendt also uses the book to comment, directly and indirectly, on the political and legal plight of her people in a way which, again, humanises these issues and exposes them to readers who perhaps are in need of a fresh perspective.

This is an outstanding first novel.

Home, by Larissa Behrendt
UQP, 2004