September 2013

Arts & Letters

Catherine Titasey’s ‘My Island Homicide’

By Louis Nowra

A surprising number of Australians don’t realise that the Torres Strait Islands are part of Australia. There are almost 300 of them stretching north of Cape York. Their administration is centred on Thursday Island, or TI as it is known. It’s small, with a multicultural population of only about 2500 people. There have been many nonfiction accounts of the island and some corny adventure stories set there, but few novels.

Catherine Titasey was a solicitor who ended up in TI and married an Islander fisherman. Now she has written a crime novel, My Island Homicide, featuring Thea, a police officer who has come to TI to escape her dismal love life. Raised in Cairns by a white father and a TI mother, Thea hopes to find out more about her mother’s culture.

What she discovers is that TI is a laidback place prone to mainly minor crimes, except for the murder of a young woman, Melissa. The solving of this case takes months and during that time Thea falls for Jonah, a fisherman. She becomes pregnant to him and, at the time she’s about to give birth, the true murderer is revealed.

Titasey details daily life on the island: the feral dogs, its strong fishing culture, taboos, the importance of tombstone unveilings, maydh (black magic), the melodramatic weather and the slower paced lifestyle. She has an excellent ear for the local pidgin, a word salad of English and traditional languages, plus the rhythms of speech.

Titasey doesn’t flinch from describing some of the darker aspects of Islander life, like drugs, juvenile crime and domestic violence. Yet despite the story being structured around a murder, the quest to find Melissa’s killer is strangely lacking in suspense, and the race in time between Thea giving birth and uncovering the murderer results in a silly and perfunctory courtroom scene. The true theme is Thea’s rocky journey to becoming an Islander and reconciling her European background with her mother’s heritage.

This is a novel at odds with itself. Titasey’s interest in the crime narrative appears outweighed by her fascination with TI, as evidenced in the exuberant descriptions of the island and its peoples. Titasey has almost a Masterchef-level of fascination with the local food. The lushness of the natural world and pleasures of fishing are wonderfully evoked, as are the traditional dancing and singing, and you’d struggle to find a book that gives you a more vivacious and accurate account of the Torres Strait Islanders of today.

Louis Nowra
Louis Nowra is an author, screenwriter and playwright. His books include Ice and The Twelfth of Never, and he is co-winner of the 2009 NSW Premier’s Script Writing Award for First Australians.

September 2013

From the front page

Green backs carbon price

After five years of Coalition climate policy failure, it’s time to re-evaluate

Image from ‘A Star Is Born’

Lady Gaga mesmerises in the uneven ‘A Star Is Born’

After a beguiling first act, director Bradley Cooper struggles to maintain momentum

Image of ‘The Arsonist’ by Chloe Hooper

The Detectives

Inside the hunt for the Black Saturday arsonist – an extract

Image of Sydney Opera House

Promo ScoMo and commodifying public space

The crass commercialism of last week’s promotion on the Opera House was a step too far


In This Issue

Margaret Atwood's 'MaddAddam'

A cassowary visits Jan Shang’s backyard in Innisfail, Queensland. © Eddie Safarik / Newspix

Jim Sterba’s 'Nature Wars'

Why Australia hates asylum seekers

Our governments and press have demonised boat people for 15 years. Organisations like the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre worry they’re fighting a losing battle.

Mal Brough making a splash in the Tiwi Islands, 2010. © Amos Aikman / Newspix

Mal Brough crashes through


More in Arts & Letters

Detail of a painting of Barron Field

Barron Field and the myth of terra nullius

How a minor poet made a major historical error

Still from Christopher Robin

A man and his bear: Marc Forster’s ‘Christopher Robin’

Adults will find this new tale of Winnie the Pooh surprisingly moving

Image of Cher in 1979

Eternally Cher

The queen of reinvention turns her attention to the works of ABBA

Image of Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein: show tunes and symphonies

Centenary celebrations highlight the composer’s broad ambitions and appeal


More in Noted

‘Less’ by Andrew Sean Greer

The Pulitzer Prize–winning novel is an engaging story of love and literary misadventure

Hannah Gadsby: ‘Nanette’

Believe the hype about the Tasmanian comedian’s Netflix special

Cover of A Sand Archive

‘A Sand Archive’ by Gregory Day

Day grasps landscape as an intimate living thing

Cover of The Lebs

‘The Lebs’ by Michael Mohammed Ahmad

A fresh perspective on Muslim youth in Sydney’s west


Read on

Image from ‘The Insult’

The personal is political in ‘The Insult’

Ziad Doueiri’s tense film excavates Lebanon’s violent past

Image from ‘A Star Is Born’

Lady Gaga mesmerises in the uneven ‘A Star Is Born’

After a beguiling first act, director Bradley Cooper struggles to maintain momentum

Image of ‘The Arsonist’ by Chloe Hooper

The Detectives

Inside the hunt for the Black Saturday arsonist – an extract

Image of Sydney Opera House

Promo ScoMo and commodifying public space

The crass commercialism of last week’s promotion on the Opera House was a step too far


×
×