Novel captures story of remote island immigrants

The Islands By Emily Brugman, Allen & Unwin, $32.99 .. .. .. .. .. ..

Margaret Reilly





The Abrolhos Islands is a chain of 22 islands situated in the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia, the nearest town being Geraldtown about 80 kilometres west of the islands. It has the most southern coral reef and is known as one of the most plentiful fishing grounds for its copious supply of rock oysters and the rarer white crays. The islands are now favourite tourist spots, but in earlier years the Western Australian government issued leases for fishermen who lived on these deserted islands for their fishing season, returning to Geraldtown for the off season. Fishing for crayfish was just beginning to take off. is the story of these fishermen told through three generations of the Saadi family, immigrants from Finland. The author stated this is a work of fiction, but she is of Finnish descent and obviously has drawn on her own family's experience in coming to terms with life on the other side of the world. Following the Second World War, living conditions for many in Finland were grim. The Saari brothers were torn, but the talk of a land where the sun shone all the time provided the pull for Nalle, the older brother, an adventurer. The younger brother, Onni, had married a local girl, but despairing of the living conditions he shortly followed Nalle. Not a fisherman, Onni and his wife Alva, originally rented a property in Geraldtown, but when Nalle and his boat disappeared in a storm Onni was persuaded to take up Nalle's lease on the island. Alva and Onni built their own tin hut and took up residence on the ramshackle camp made up for the most part of Finnish immigrants. This is the story of three generations of immigrants, loving their life with their fellow fishermen on the island and struggling to become accepted as Australians on their returns to Geraldtown. It is mainly the story of Hilda, Ooni and Alva's only child. She was immersed in the life of the islands. Fishing and her friends were her life. Her ambition was to have her own boat and become as good a fisherman as her father and his compatriots. Unfortunately, a slump in the industry and an injury to his back saw Onni leaving the islands and bringing his family back to permanent residence in Geraldtown. Hilda resented this move. She had grown up mostly as part of a strong Finnish community, intent on their old ways and keeping the language, all the while enjoying the eternal sunshine and opportunities of their new country. Their return to Geraldtown was their reminder that change was on the way. In Brugman's first novel, she has captured the unworldly atmosphere of the Abrolhos Islands, its remoteness, its flatness and its scrubby vegetation, but also the sea, the coves, the bird life, the fishing all so loved by its new occupants. It is the universal story of immigrants, the real difficulties of both language and expectations for the older generation, the next generation coping but still a little resentful, the third generation looking forward, but still looking back just a little. A warm and tender novel. —