Finding Ullagundahi Island by Fabienne Bayet-Charlton

‘A story of family, place and belonging.’

In her Author Note, Ms Bayet-Charlton wrote that ‘… although this book is strongly autobiographical, it is not an autobiography.’ She wanted to make it clear that it is written from her perspective.

‘Memories fade, like a drought of the mind…’

This is a deeply personal story, a quest for knowledge, for identity, for family history. Ms Bayet-Charlton, then a young Aboriginal woman, travelled to northern NSW, to the Clarence River. She was in search of Ullagundahi Island where her grandmother and grandfather were born. Records were sparse, and those with memories of her grandmother were few. But she never stopped searching. The book is presented as a letter to her daughter, Ashlyn May.

‘Sometimes I feel like a door between two rooms, a fence dividing two pieces of land, two countries, two universes.’

I was halfway through this book when an online search for a particular detail led me to an obituary notice. I was shocked. This talented, intelligent, vibrant young woman died in 2011.

In The Advertiser, on 3 September 2011, Stephen Orr wrote an obituary, from which the following is quoted:

‘She journeyed into a heart of darkness from which, ultimately, she couldn’t escape. She created all-too-real fictional characters, struggled with depression, and the fracturing of her family, past and present.’ and

‘Fabienne was torn between two worlds – black and white, academic and creative, the past and present, death and resilience.’

I kept reading, saddened by the knowledge that this bright, articulate woman is no longer with us.

Her story of dispossession is not unique, but her telling of it is so very powerful. A beautifully written autobiographical book. I wish I’d read it earlier.

Adrienne Bayet-Charlton (1970-2011) was born and died in Adelaide.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



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