Beneath the Mother Tree by D M Cameron

‘You see better with your eyes shut.’

On Moondarrawah, a small island off the coast of Queensland, lives a small tight-knit community. Everyone knows everyone else’s business but, mostly, people respect each other’s boundaries. For Ayla, the island has always been home.  She left for a while to study but soon returned.  Her grandfather, known as Grappa (a name the community finds fitting) is filled with the Irish mythology shared with him by his grandmother.  Grappa hears a flute being played, he’s sure it’s the Far Dorocha, the dark servant of the faery queen returned to cause trouble.  He hastens to the Nor Folk Tree to ask protection for Ayla.

Two strangers have moved to the island.  Riley and his mother Marlise have moved there following the death of Riley’s stepfather.  Marlise is an entomologist, while Riley is the mysterious flute player.  A series of strange deaths have the locals wondering: are they connected to the strangers?

Part mystery and part love story, this novel also draws on Indigenous history and Irish mythology.  Ms Cameron has written a novel in which these elements work together to demonstrate connections between people and place, between different perceptions of reality and ownership.  Of the major characters, Marlise has secrets, Riley seeks answers, Ayla feels like she doesn’t belong.

The island has history, as do the people who live there.  The past is never far from the surface and the present is complicated.  The environment is also important, and Ms Cameron describes the setting beautifully.  The Mother Tree is central to the novel: important to both the Indigenous people and those of Irish heritage.  There’s magic here, both in the story and in the telling of it.

This is a novel to read and (in my case at least) to reread.   This is Ms Cameron’s debut novel: I hope it is the first of many.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith