May you always carry a piece of the Kimberley with you
Di Morrissey is an ex-journo and she is a popular and prolific Australian author. This is her 25th book and I have happily read all her previous ones. The Red Coast is her third book in the Broome trilogy: the sequel to Tears of the Moon (my favourite) about the history of the pearling industry; and Kimberley Sun after which she cheekily names a ship in this book.
Di is well travelled, not just throughout Australia, but Australia is her home and the love of her life. The Red Coast is part novel, part travelogue. I reckon she could write for the Western Australian tourism industry. Her depictions of the "Staircase to the Moon" (which is on my bucket list), Ningaloo, Monkey Mia (which isn't famous for its monkeys - it's famous for its wild dolphins which swim into the shallows to be hand fed by tourists) and the horizontal falls are all beautifully described. She captures the serenity and the mystery of the ancient Kimberley landscape as well as its history and social issues. "The immensity, the disconnection from the modern world, the beauty, the history, the whole mystique of the place and the tragedy of its unrequited opportunities. ..it really is the forgotten continent."
Author Di Morrissey (image from her website)
She uses the spectacular Kimberley backdrop to present complex social issues. They are proposing to put the world's biggest refinery on a sacred and pristine coastline where there are people who still practise the world's oldest living culture. It's also the place that has the largest humpback whale population and one of the world's richest collections of dinosaur footprints. However, this is not a book about whales - that would be The Bay, from which I learnt much I didn't know about these beautiful mammals."Some felt they could hear, in the mournful whale song, a cry for the protection of this precious coast."
She often writes about wildlife and their habitats, ecologically sensitive areas and sustainable, appropriate development. This novel is about offshore natural gas and mining. The town has already divided into two war camps, those who want to leave things the way they are, and others who are thinking that this development will bring employment, housing and growth to the town. Di skilfully portrays the tension and conflict of the fragile ecosystem versus a gas hub; a David versus Goliath struggle. What is the price of progress and can a small town defeat an international corporation?
The big corporations literally and figuratively, bulldoze whatever is on their path, even if it is sacred land. She writes with fearlessness about the custodians of the land: the first Australians. She is passionate about the traditional owners and native title. In the pages of her fiction, she brings to life the indigenous culture including aboriginal art, heritage, country, songlines, and Dreamtime stories. She too is a great storyteller, like the elders she describes. (One of my favourite snippets in the book regards Broome's pearling industry and the "Southern Cross Pearl".)
Pearls from Broome (image by May Cross)
Much of the story is set in a fictitious bookshop, although there is a wonderful little (real) bookshop in Broome which does hold popular book festivals similar to in the book. Characters from the two earlier novels in the trilogy make cameo appearances in this novel such as lovable Lily and Sami Barton. I read that Di had heard a radio programme about the sadness of stillbirths and named her main character Lydia after a still-born baby girl. How sad, yet lovely, is that as a gesture? The character Riley Mathieson is a thinly disguised homage to fellow Australian author, Matthew Reilly (whose novels I also really enjoy). Like in all her novels, there is, of course, a love interest. But The Red Sea is much more than a romance novel.