I approached The Valley by Steve Hawke with some slight trepidation because the very nature of its subject matter could not but entail the objective of attempting to contribute to an understanding of the lives of indigenous Australians in contemporary society, no small undertaking indeed. Furthermore, I was acutely aware that such an ambition could only be achieved by means of a highly developed literary capacity. Thus, before even opening the book, I had such high expectations of it – or, more accurately, hopes of those particular expectations being fulfilled. Hawke’s deftly and sympathetically etched characters who shall undoubtedly remain alive in my imagination, his acutely observed descriptions of parts of the landscape of northern Western Australia wherein the novel is set, and the way in which the story line developed all combined to prove my feelings of apprehension totally unfounded. Hawke exceeded my hopes and expectations for this important and memorable novel.
The period in which The Valley is set probably roughly coincides with the time in which Hawke’s own grandparents lived through to the present day. The story told is therefore one within living memory, one which shows how recent and constant were certain forms of cruel social dislocation and suffering endured by indigenous Australians. Hawke’s telling of recent history through the novel form counters a commonly held view that the privations suffered by indigenous Australians happened some two hundred years ago, that is, in their distant past. Furthermore, the lives of the characters in The Valley also undermine the widely held view that many light-skinned indigenous Australians are really mostly Caucasian and that their identification with the wider group of indigenous Australians is therefore somehow spurious. In The Valley Hawke has demonstrated the power of literature to evoke strong feelings in the reader which illuminate for him or her that commonality which exists between all human beings despite differences of race or social and historical circumstance. In doing so Hawke has contributed to eroding those trenchantly held images in the popular imaginary which are borne of ignorance and a lack of generosity.