Interview: Melissa Lucashenko

Ahead of her appearance at Writers' Week, the author discusses her pièce de résistance, Edenglassie, a courageous novel that balances history with humour, loss with love and racism with resilience

feature (adelaide) | Read in About 4 minutes
Published 28 Feb 2024
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Melissa Lucashenko photo by Glenn Hunt

In her latest book, Edenglassie, Melissa Lucashenko writes "that nothing is as powerful as the right story, at the right time." Supposedly we consume stories for their capacity to entertain rather than their capacity to wield power. But Lucashenko seems to know better – her last novel, Too Much Lip, won the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2019. What is it though that makes her stories so powerful? What makes Edenglassie the right story, and this the right time to tell it? 

Perhaps it’s love. Edenglassie has been categorised by some as a romance novel. Yet, Lucashenko doesn’t consider herself a romantic: "I seem to have been given this label," she says over the phone on a seasonably cool Friday afternoon, "and I don't object to it – I just don’t think of myself that way." It seems lazy to reduce her latest work – the one she’s most proud of – down to a romance novel. But what does romance really mean anyway? Perhaps, like many of her other books, this is a love letter to all the voices who were never heard, and the lives that were never lived. 

Edenglassie is set in Meanjin/Brisbane between the 1800s and 2024 and there’s a surprising amount of re-learning and re-calibrating to do given that it’s inherently a work of fiction. And perhaps this, in essence, is why it’s such a revolutionary book. Because aside from the humour, the romance, and the historical underpinnings, there’s a lot to take from this radical, heartbreaking, and funny fictionalisation of Australia’s past, while securing a hopeful glimpse into an alternate future. 

One thing we can be certain of is that the great ironies which have long lay idle in our histories are being dredged up now with a cheeky and humorous flair. Edenglassie opens in a sterile Meanjin hospital with Yagara elder Granny Eddy worrying someone will take the dirt out from under her fingernails. "There’s a really strong unconscious association in the west with dirt, and poverty, and stupidity," Lucashenko says. As a proud working class writer, she recalls growing up in a household where everyone came home covered in dirt. She’s also a proud Bundjalung woman, which carries a completely different set of connotations: "There’s a distinction between what earth means to Indigenous people, and what dirt implies to other people." The polarising value of dirt between cultures and classes taps into an inherited ignorance from those who seldom remember that without it, we’d have nothing to eat. More than that though, the earth is what physically connects us to everything else. A recurring message throughout Lucashenko’s writing is one of connectivity and inclusivity, both essential to Aboriginal Law, and each form the backbone of the novel.

The concept of inclusivity in particular is simultaneously the most humorous and the most ironic part of Edenglassie, which in turn makes it the saddest too. Towards the end, Dr Johnny (a man who has recently uncovered his own Murri heritage) says  "...Aboriginal culture’s different to coloniser cultures. We bring outsiders in and assimilate them, always have, and always will. Because everything in Country needs to have its place or it gets right outta whack." The irony of colonisers being included into a culture that was decimated by the spread of that very colony seems unimaginable to many of us. But that’s the point, isn’t it?

Or maybe the point is more simple than that, maybe it’s about hope and resilience. "I think we need to be in a world where resilience isn’t as necessary," Lucashenko says just before she hangs up. "Malcolm Fraser said life wasn’t meant to be easy, which is the polar opposite of the Indigenous perspective. Why wasn’t life meant to be easy?" A question which is rather hard to answer. And if you don’t have the answers, it probably means it’s a good time to start listening.



Edenglassie, out now, University of Queensland Press

Writers' Week continues at the Pioneer Women's Memorial Garden until 7 March