Title: Song of the Crocodile
Author: Nardi Simpson
Published: September 29th 2020
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 stars
Darnmoor, The Gateway to Happiness. The sign taunts a fool into feeling some sense of achievement, some kind of end- that you have reached a destination in the very least. Yet as the sign states, Darnmoor is merely a gateway, a waypoint on the road to where you really want to be.
Darnmoor is the home of the Billymil family, three generations who have lived in this ‘gateway town’. Race relations between Indigenous and settler families are fraught, though the rigid status quo is upheld through threats and soft power rather than the overt violence of yesteryear.
As progress marches forwards, Darnmoor and its surrounds undergo rapid social and environmental changes, but as some things change, some stay exactly the same. The Billymil family are watched (and sometimes visited) by ancestral spirits and spirits of the recently deceased, who look out for their descendants and attempt to help them on the right path.
When the town’s secrets start to be uncovered the town will be rocked by a violent act that forever shatters a century of silence.
Full of music, Yuwaalaraay language and exquisite description, Song of the Crocodile is a lament to choice and change, and the unyielding land that sustains us all, if only we could listen to it.
‘This song was given to me by my master and is the last I will sing. It is the Song of the Crocodile, the greatest, most powerful song in this country. The song will lure it into the floodplains where it will face its end. This song is why you are here, why you were born and have already died. We have to sing the crocodile so that lore can start again.’
A compelling saga that encompasses traditional culture, lands, language, music, art and kinship, Song of the Crocodile is a powerful debut written by Nardi Simpson. The recipient of the 2018 black&write! fellowship award, Song of the Crocodile has been released to great acclaim by Hachette Australia. A formative novel of race relations, family ties, ancestry, injustice and progress, Nardi Simpson’s first novel is an affective read.
Song of the Crocodile travels across a period of time and change in the company of the Billymil family. Over three generations have toiled on the Darnmoor region, in country NSW. Over the years this family unit has weathered many storms. From land ownership, racial prejudice, violence, threats and suppression, this family has been subjected to it all. With the passage of time and the inevitable force of progress in the area of Darnmoor, the Billymil family must contend with further change from environmental and social forces, beyond their control. With the guiding force of ancestors from times past, the Billymil family must negotiate the tricky path between respecting their past elders and moving along with the tides of change. But with community tensions reaching breaking point, which follows a devastating act of violence, the Billymil family must take stock and rise above these challenging times.
Song of the Crocodile is a book that I valued, but I also battled with internally. I have found it hard to reconcile my emotions into words with this one. Nardi Simpson’s debut is heartbreakingly sad, filled with sorrow, regret, pain, mistakes, anger and pure injustice. There were times when I had to put this book down and take a break. Regrouping and going back in with a clear head seemed to help, but overall Song of the Crocodile proved to be overwhelming read. However, despite the difficulties I experienced with this novel, I think it has an important place in our world. Nardi Simpson is correct in bringing the stories and themes at play in her first novel to our collective consciousness.
Divided into three clear parts, Song of the Crocodile follows generation upon generation of an Indigenous family based in the fictional area of North West NSW, in a town named Darnmoor. We meet the matriarch of this family set and as the story unfolds, we are presented with an array of family perspectives. Song of the Crocodile is a character rich story, full of musings, tales, confessions, revelations, events and experiences of each member of this family fold. What they endured over the years broke my heart, but it also made me feel a great deal of shame for what this family had been subjected to over the passage of time of the book.
Nardi Simpson encapsulates some of the heartbreaking experiences of the Billymil family. Song of the Crocodile covers racial persecution, inequality, stripped land rights, the impact of colonisation, violence, assault, trauma and tragedy. Nardi Simpson’s often stark and pointed prose, illuminates these struggles for the reader. There were times when I found the storytelling to be dark and confusing, but Song of the Crocodile is without a doubt a confronting read.
Nardi Simpson weaves in the power of traditional music, folklore, stories, practices, culture and language within her novel. There is also a focus on the influence and weight of elders past, who help to guide the Billymil family through the changes they face. The influence of the ancestors is a strong and commanding force of this novel, directing the story to its final destination.
Song of the Crocodile is a novel filled with anguish, sorrow and injustice. It is also an expression of song, music, language, culture and the value of the land to the Yuwaalaraay people.
Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson is published by Hachette Australia on September 29th 2020. $32.99.
To learn more about the author of Song of the Crocodile, Nardi Simpson, visit here.
*Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Song of the Crocodile is book #117 the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge