Review: Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray by Anita Heiss

Title: Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray

Author: Anita Heiss

Published: 5th May 2021, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster Australia


My Thoughts:

The first Australian novel to be released with a title in Wiradyuri language, Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray, which translates to River of Dreams, is a novel of historical fiction based on true events from Anita Heiss.

When the Murrumbidgee River breaks its banks in 1852 it devastates the fledgling town of Gundagai, built too close to the water’s edge despite the warnings of the local Wiradyuri tribe. Only two members of the Bradley family survive and in the wake of the flood, they decide to start again in Wagga Wagga. Wagadhaany (Wog-a-dine), who has been in the service of the Bradley’s for four years, assumes this means she can return to her family, especially when the eldest brother takes a new bride, but instead she is forced to leave her country, and her miyagan to accompany them.

While Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray explores the universal themes of family, loss, love and belonging, it does so from the unique viewpoint of Wagadhaany, a young Wiradyuri woman. With courage and resilience Wagadhaany endures the cruel separation from her family, and her country, and the dehumanising policies of British colonisation towards First Nations people, finding love with a young Aboriginal stockman, but always yearning to return home.

Herself a proud member of the Wiradjuri Nation of central New South Wales, Heiss writes beautifully of Wagadhaany’s connection to country and family, of her respect for tradition and her pride in her people. I appreciated the insight into the traditional way of life for the First Nations people, and I particularly liked being introduced to the Wiradyuri language, which is easily decipherable through context (though there is a glossary in back if needed).

Through the characters of the Bradley family, Heiss illustrates the ignorant and arrogant treatment of the colonialists toward both the land and the aboriginal people. Their folly is laid bare by the floods, and their insistence on shaping the land to fit their needs. Heiss shows how even those who considered themselves well-intentioned, like James Bradley’s Quaker bride, Louise, advocated paternalism rather than genuine self-determinism.

If I’m honest I feel the writing is a little repetitive at times. Though it’s understandable Wagadhaany’s thoughts dwell on what she has lost and her unhappiness, the middle third of the book doesn’t really have much momentum. I found the love story between Wagadhaany and Yindyamarra engaging, and Wagadhaany’s journey home moving and poignant.

Stirring and edifying, Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray is a book that will speak to the hearts and minds of readers.


Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon 

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Helen Murdoch
    May 08, 2021 @ 12:47:57

    This sounds like a really interesting book. I don’t know much about Australia’s First Nations so I’d learn a bunch while reading a good story.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Jennifer
    May 08, 2021 @ 14:58:29

    I loved this book. For me, the repetition you refer to served to underline how slow we have been to recognise the issues.

    Liked by 1 person


  3. Trackback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #SundayPost #SundaySalon | book'd out

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