After Before Time
Fiction · HarperColins
After Before Time is a deeply moving collection of linked narratives. In each chapter we are introduced to a new character whose life interweaves in and out of other chapters. We are also taken on the journey of a remote indigenous community as it’s peoples are forcibly removed from their lands for the second time.
Each story is fictional but inspired by a real person and is interwoven with truths. Robbi has been given permission to share these truths by writing them down, both by the person who influenced each story and by the Elders concerned.
These stories sing with vivid and simple life, truth and power. These are stories of shame, pain and sorrow, but also joy and love – and they transform our understanding of ‘the Indigenous experience’.
The narratives tell familiar stories – of dispossession, destitution, children being taken away, hopelessness and powerlessness – but it tells them in a very different, direct, simple and powerfully moving way.
“Robbi Neal has captured a truthful, no holes barred and deeply sensitive range of indigenous Australian experience” – Newtown review of Books
This is a very important book. It contains stories of contemporary, “ordinary” Aboriginal people. It describes their lives in all its beauty, dignity, pain and suffering. It reminds us that we still have a long way to go before the first peoples are shown the respect they so richly deserve. I found it deeply moving.
After Before Time is a total heart experience. Be prepared to experience a whole gamut of feelings, as there is no soft-pedalling here. The characters disclose the depth of their anger, sadness, grief and pain, directly and bluntly.
But there is also great love, warmth, and generosity of spirit towards each other and towards those whites who, over the generations, have loved and tried to help them.
This book is my love letter to a very remote community I lived in for eight years. I fell in love with each of the people and those around them who inspired these characters. I fell in love with the whole community and miss it dreadfully. Those of us who have never lived in a remote indigenous community cannot possibly understand the pain and loss of identity and Country; the absence of opportunity and resources the rest of us take for granted or the struggle to protect culture that is embedded in every day life. Yet people’s lives are lived with hope and with strong family bonds that can survive the toughest conditions and with spirit in their souls.
Peter and I went there to work, we took our two young children. But I also went there to explore my heritage. This book emerged out of yarns over pots of tea, stories told over curry chicken stews, living each day with each of the people that inspired the book.
I read each story to the person who inspired the story I wrote for them and after I read what I’d written to each one, they smiled, held their hand to their heart and said, ‘Yes that’s it. You got it true girl. That’s what happened.’
It wasn’t what happened because each story is fiction created by me. But the stories that grew felt true to them. The stories I’d written told the truth of them and who they are and what they endured.
I wanted this story to explore with honesty the racial divides, the oppression, the loss of opportunity, the pain and sorrow and disadvantage of living in a remote indigenous community but to also celebrate the strength of spirit, the joy and hope that people carry deep in their souls.