Part 3: A Clearing in the Forest

Read this anaylsis of the relationship between indigenous Australians, early settlers and clothing by Grace Karskens.

Read the following extract from The Secret River p.200:

But the women came up to her and showed her what was in their wooden dishes, crowding around and screeching with how funny it all was.  One had a big speckled lizard hanging limp from the string around her waist, slapping against her knee at every movement.  She held it up, fat and heavy, its legs splayed out from its pale belly, shouting at Sal as if she was half a mile away.  Very nice I’m sure, Polly, he heard Sal say, but you ain’t going to eat it surely? pointing at the lizard, miming eating, pointing at the woman, and they all shouted and laughed at her, copying the way she had gone hand-to-mouth and pretended to chew.  Their teeth were the most astonishing white Thornhill had ever seen, strong and shining in their faces.  Sal was enjoying the joke of being able to say what she pleased.  Ain’t you the saucy one, Polly, what about rats, and how would you go about stewing a nice little pot of worms?

Behind the older women the younger ones hung back laughing behind their hands with each other.  One, bolder than the rest, darted forward and took hold of a bit of Sal’s skirt and then dropped the unfamiliar texture with a little shriek as if it had burned her.  But Sal took a step towards her, holding the skirt out and offering her a handful.  Why, you’re no better than a dumb animal, she said, smiling, and the girl took it for permission, darting in and this time picking up the fabric in her and and feeling it.  Now the others crowded in around her.  One touched Sal’s bare arm , her hand very black against it, first quickly as if it might bite, then laying her whole hand along it and watching Sal’s face, and behind her another was dabbing at her bonnet, the rest screaming encouragement.

Then one of them had Sal’s bonnet off and on top of her own head, sitting white and incongruous on the black curls.  It was the funniest thing any of them had ever seen: Sal was doubled over, and the girl did look a sight, stark naked but for the bonnet crooked on her head, her face under it split with mirth.  The other women all wanted to try it then, so the bonnet was passed from hand to hand, head to head, until the lot of them were staggering with laughter.




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