Book Review: Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

Lucy Treloar’s debut novel is a wonderful exploration of colonial life, set in the ruggedly beautiful coastal region of the Coorong, South Australia, which encompasses the traditional lands of the Ngarrindjeri people.

In 1874, from her home in Chichester, England, Hester Finch’s memories of her years spent on the Coorong are evoked by the arrival of letters and an old tin trunk from Australia. The items inside the trunk take her back to when she was fifteen: to March 1855 when her father, Stanton Finch, due to several failed business ventures, removes his large family from Adelaide to the isolation of Salt Creek Station.

Finch is a proud and selfish man, who would subject his sick wife and their surviving children to the hardships of life on the Coorong, rather than accept further help from his wealthy parents-in-law. He is arrogant, too, seeing himself as a role model for the Aboriginal people and low born settlers: an example of how to make use of the land and thereby prosper.

Hester, for a fifteen year old, is very astute. She realises that although their futures are dependent on their father, he does not always make the wisest choices. His belief in his own superiority and the teachings of the Bible compromise his ability to understand the culture and ways of the Ngarrindjeri. When he befriends Tully, a half caste boy, invites him into their home, educates him like another son and encourages them all to treat Tully as a member of the family, Hester questions her father's motives and what will be the outcome of his benevolence.

Hester, as the eldest daughter, has no illusions about her role in the family. When her mother's health deteriorates further, she runs the household and takes charge of her younger siblings. She is prepared to do her duty to the family, but cannot accept that this is all there is to life. Despite its beauty and the respite it gives her from the constraints of polite society, she longs to escape the confines of the Coorong, to be in control of her own destiny.

As the years pass, Hester becomes more conflicted by her father's decisions and his state of mind. She witnesses the gradual loss of her family's ideals and the devastation of the Ngarrindjeri people's way of life. Eventually, her father's cruel actions tear the family apart and precipitate Hester's flight from the Coorong to a new life in England.

Salt Creek is an atmospheric blend of fact and fiction, depicting one family's struggles on the Coorong and their interaction with the local Aboriginal people, the Ngarrindjeri. The writing is elegant and reminiscent of a bygone era, allowing the reader to be completely drawn into the story, to feel the isolation and beauty of the Coorong as experienced by the Finches and to understand how it influenced their daily lives.

Lucy Treloar's novel draws attention to a sad time in Australia's history, but without judgement. It is an emotionally engaging read, thoroughly absorbing and one that I am happy to recommend: a must for those interested in Australian history.

Salt Creek was originally published in 2015 by Pan Macmillan Australia and has recently been released in the U.K. by Gallic Books/Aardvark Bureau.


  1. I've been wanting to read more historical fiction set in Australia and this sounds as though it would be a great choice. I'm glad you liked it.

    1. It was excellent and I hope you decide to read it. I'm looking forward to more historical fiction from Lucy Treloar.

  2. Hm... I also like the sound of this one. Don't know much about Australian history, but it is a country I've visited and loved!

    1. I hope you get to read it. Glad you enjoyed your visit to Australia.