The Billymil family have lived in the small town of Darnmoor for three generations, and expectant parents Celie and Tom are preparing to welcome the newest addition. But tensions between Darnmoor’s Indigenous and settler families are rising. And the divide between the white run town and the Campgrounds, where the Billymils call home, is growing.
Watched over by their ancestors, the inhabitants of the Campgrounds navigate a world that doesn’t want them, dodging aggressions both micro and overt. Some try to affect change, others survive by keeping their heads down. But as plans for expansion are revealed and secrets threaten to spill out, bowing to the status quo becomes ever more difficult for the Billymil family.
Progress is coming to Darnmoor. But at what cost?
Song of the Crocodile is the debut novel from Nardi Simpson, and it’s filled with a lyrical, evocative beauty. Simpson, a recipient of the 2018 black&write! fellowship, makes use of every word, grounding it all in a warm, understated elegance that reflects the character (and the characters) of the Campgrounds. And with Simpson’s musical background (along with Kaleena Briggs, she’s part of Indigenous folk duo Stiff Gins), it’s no surprise to find Song of the Crocodile brimming with music, song, and traditional Yuwaalaraay language.
Shifting perspective between members of the Billymil family – including Celie, Margaret, Celie’s daughter Mili, and son-in-law Wil – and the ancestors who guide them, Song of the Crocodile is at once both a love letter to the land and a lament for those left behind by so-called progress.
With a focus on day to day life, every scene, however small, reveals a little more, whether that’s about the town or its inhabitants. Unwrapping each layer is a consistently moving experience, whatever the overarching emotion. An early chapter with the Campgrounds women coming together after Celie’s mother Margaret loses her job immediately springs to mind. It’s vibrant, genuine, and filled with love, laughter, and kindness. I actually went back to reread the entire chapter once it was over.
Wisdom and emotion rule this beautiful debut. As thinly veiled threats and a white leaning status quo bear down on the Indigenous characters, it’s sad – sometimes desperately so – and angry too, but Song of the Crocodile is also warm, gentle, and kind. A truly mesmerising read.
Nardi Simpson’s Song of the Crocodile is out now, published by Hachette.