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River Girl: Growing Up Around The Murray River

River Girl: Growing Up Around The Murray River
By: Glenda Andrew
Blank Ink Press. 2005.

The front cover of River Girl adequately describes in pictorial form the setting for this self-account of a young girl who grew up in and around ‘the Murray’. It is obvious that it concerns a different culture (Aboriginal) from many of us white European Australians. Notwithstanding, the book is as much the lament of how a family survives largely on ‘Settlements’ and how important the extended family becomes. It tells of her (Glenda) early childhood, the rough times that her family endured, her many experiences in the bush – with and without others – and the lessons she learnt and came to treasure as she got older.

River Girl is an easy read but an intriguing one. It is a book that first impressions may not do it justice, nor give it its due accolades. Indeed, my first impression was that this was a book for young girls to enjoy. An initial thumb through its pages seemed to ooze that ‘girlie thing’, that didn’t do much for me. However, upon getting to the ‘guts’ of the book, I realized that my impressions were ill founded. How quick we can jump to conclusions without getting to the ‘inside’. Interestingly, this very assertion is one of the strong learnings Glenda discovers herself. Despite recollections of verbal abuse, racist remarks, derogatory ‘shots’ toward her and her family because of her colour and economic status, Glenda recalls how with the help of her mother and grandparents, she learnt that “God looks on the inside; for the good things in a person, not the outside”.

The 99 pages are cleverly interspersed with appropriate black & white photographs and or drawings that on most occasions help the reader to engage the ‘message’ and ‘tone’ of the book, not just its words.

There are two aspects however, that I personally didn’t find helpful. Firstly, the over use of bolding certain phrases. While in some cases I thought this was useful and added to the intensity of the particular story, I think it was overdone. Indeed, in some cases the bolding had little relevance to the story or to its meaning. Secondly, often the story appears a little disjointed. One sentence can be talking about her athletic grandfather and the next about her early belief in the Easter Bunny. It needs to be said though that Glenda recalls her childhood as it happened, and one has to bear that in mind when reading.

Although not academically written, the book challenges the stereotyping to which we often fall victim. Anybody interested in becoming more aware of the difficulties that many Aboriginals faced and the lengths some followed to advocate better and fairer relations would enjoy this book.