Salt Creek, by Lucy Treloar is a really great book. It’s set in South Australia in the 1860s and centres on the misfortunes of the Finches, an English family trying to make their living from the inhospitable land around Salt Creek. At its core Salt Creek is a story about colonial Australia’s place in the Empire, of white people’s uneasy foothold in Australia and the displacement of native Australians through farming, disease and misdirected religious fervour.
The writing is beautiful, evoking the period and the landscape. The plot begins slowly and we’re gradually drawn into each of the characters’ individual sense of alienation. The story increasingly gathers pace as Papa Finch’s fortunes fall further into decline and the family disintegrates.
Salt Creek is about love, racism, colonial pioneering, ego, familial tension and bitter disappointment. These big themes are teased out beautifully over the course of the novel. For this reason, I think Salt Creek is destined to be a film. I’ve pondered over who could play the central characters thoughtfully enough to do proper justice to this book, and I’ve come up with the following list:
Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as Hettie – much as I would love this headstrong, feminist pivotal character to be played by an Australian actor, I can see it being given to an English woman (for the box office sales you see). Daisy Ridley is probably a bit old to be Hettie, but she has the right vibe.
Hettie is by default the head of the household, but determined not to fall into the same trap as her mother did – giving her life over to a man and being trapped by his decisions. ‘I have not great wish for marriage…. I never met a man I would care to obey’. Her unwavering ambition is to escape the farm and the responsibilities she shoulders for keeping the family intact.
Guy Pearce as Papa Finch – the always optimistic entrepreneur who sacrifices his family for his next venture. ‘Papa had persuaded the bank to lend him further funds on the basis of what he called “significant improvements to the land”. I could not help thinking it was fortunate we were so far down the lagoon; it was not likely they would visit and discover our true situation’. His selfishness and narcissism is what ultimately causes his family to desert Salt Creek one by one. Low point – he more or less sells his second-borne daughter into marriage to clear his debts.
Toni Collette as Mama Finch – cos Toni can play anything, with any hair colour, in any accent. Mama comes from a posh English background and feels she has more than sunk below her station with the family’s move to Salt Creek. She shuns her new life, her (Irish) neighbours and can barely stir herself to mother her children. ‘Mama was often seen looking from a window or holding to the rail of the veranda as if on a ship on a stormy sea. At first, I waved, until I perceived that nothing would reassure’.
Lucy Fry (Wolf Creek) as Adelaide – Addie has a wild spirit and doesn’t give a toss what people think about her. ‘Addie become even more wild and wilful, and galloped along the track on whichever horse was free, and if there was not one she melted away anyway’. Addie also grows into a headstrong woman, but without the discipline of Hettie. Her love affair with Tully, contrary to all social mores, is what makes this book really interesting.
Hunter Page-Lochard (Cleverman) as Tully. Tully is a fantastic character and, to my mind, personifies the tension captured within Australia right from first settlement. Possibly born of mixed parentage, Tully is caught between the white settlers’ world and his own indigenous family. ‘I had become so used to seeing Tull as ours that I had forgot about the family that he must have’. Papa Finch has determined that he will ‘civilise’ Tully, and through him his kin, instructing him in religion, reading and farming. Some of the most poignant lines come from Tully’s mouth.
Otis Pavlovic (The Code, season 2) as Frank – poor wee Frank. All he wants to do is draw pictures of native flora and read Charles Darwin (‘a task he disappears into so completely that he hardly heard his name’). He is bullied by his older brothers and though he tries hard to capture his father’s attention, he is never strong or interesting enough. He finds comfort in his friendship with Tully.
Now, picture a movie preview consisting of montages and snippets of dialogue whereby these characters are: galloping on horses through the dust, entwining their hands with their lovers on the beach, padlocking their water wells from the local Aboriginals, grieving over the death of a child, spitting words of revenge, reconnecting with family in England. It’s got everything you need for a night at the movies. But remember, make sure you read the book first.
What do you think about my cast list? Is Salt Creek destined to be the next Aussie blockbuster?
Feature image courtesy of Big Lap Australia.