Reading Down Under

The Kadaitcha Sung by Sam Watson

The Kadaitcha Sung is an impressive window into aboriginal life and the sense of dis-ease that many aboriginals must feel when forced to acclimatise their lives with the Western invaders. Tommy is a mixed race young man, one of only two men left in his tribe and laden with a blood debt that must be paid. He must kill the other man, his uncle, and put to rest the many lives he destroyed years ago.
The use of (for lack of a better word) magic in this book is very impressive. Nothing ever feels fanciful or silly but instead we get a sense of the dark and fantastic. The creatures and spirits who speak to Tommy are not the pleasant creatures of Western folklore but instead represent the earths majesty itself. In a strange way, I had to give up fully understanding this book while I was reading it as I soon realised there were layers upon layers of meaning I couldn’t even hope to grasp. One thing that is clear through the narrative is the deep seated hatred of what white society has done to the Aboriginal Australia and its people. This idea especially is carried out in an interesting way, showing a real struggle within Tommy at times as he wrestles with his Aboriginal heritage and his shame that he was mothered by a white woman.
A stroke of terrifying genius occurs in the first few pages, where a group of men are sat out in the bush, keeping an Aboriginal woman as a slave and chuckling about the murder of her people. From a white outside perspective, I initially presumed this would be a scene from the 1800’s, probably for my comfort more than anything else. As though he had expected this, Watson seems to deliberately insert dialogue about one of the men having a digital watch. I have no idea if it is because I am not from Australia that I was so mislead by the time period but somehow I feel that Watson deliberately wants us to accept that this behaviour and downright abuse of the blacks carried on well into the 20th Century and we shouldn’t delude ourselves to think otherwise.
One thing that should be mentioned about this book is that is most certainly not for young readers. There are large amounts of rape, sometimes suggested and sometimes graphically described, both between men and women. Watson’s descriptions of sex manage to equally convey the joy of mutual physical love and the abhorrent nature of rape. The topic of rape will always be one of great discomfort, especially against aboriginal people, but it certainly cannot be ignored from history.
My only qualm with the book is that the ending feels incredibly rushed. The story arc is one of a grand and epic quest, which is impressively juxtaposed by a modern world. I loved the sweeping grandure and Tommy’s development as he learns to use his great powers but the final showdown was over in a matter of a few pages. I would have preferred a little more of a grand ending, like the rest of the story but perhaps this was also an intended message from the author. It seems there is nothing white society cannot rob from the blacks.

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