Peter Docker’s latest title, Sweet One (2014), belies this crime novel’s violent content, which puts in the limelight an Aboriginal-Australian avenger of Aboriginal deaths in custody. Docker, an author of Irish, Cornish and English extraction, was born, raised and worked in the Western Australian countryside, and in previous novels had already shown his sharp understanding of the power imbalances between White and Black and the resulting social, political, cultural and environmental problematics in one of Australia’s racially most backward states, controlled by the powerful mining lobby and industry. Docker draws inspiration from real events in Western Australia and Palm Island to tell his story, and weaves different threads subtly together. In Sweet One he takes his critique of White Australian attitudes towards the continent’s First Nations one step further and maps race across class and gender to unveil the workings of White patriarchal power in the Outback.
Docker engages with race issues through the eyes and actions of the Melbourne-based, female journalist Izzy Langford, who investigates the horrible end of an Aboriginal Afghan-war veteran and local elder. After being arrested for driving drunk, he is left to bake to death in a police van equipped with faulty air-conditioning, which the local authorities had not bothered to repair. Subtle links are established between Izzy’s father’s as well as Sweet-One’s involvement in the Afghan war as soldiers, which make her realise that Western Australia is no different a war zone. Izzy had investigated cases of Aboriginal death in custody before, and while the culprit in her last, dropped story was acquitted, he now becomes the first to die at the hands of this army-trained veteran of Wongatha and Afghani descent who ends up eliminating all that have been directly or indirectly involved in the Old Man’s killing, thus questioning where responsibilities and accountabilities for the Aboriginal plight might start and end. As the novel slowly closes in on Sweet One, Docker comments on the alcohol and drug abuse, the sex trade and financial and economic manipulation in the Outback which affect Black and White relations, but also establishes empowering links of solidarity between Izzy and a group of Aboriginal women who help her hide from White authorities bent upon getting rid of her. Docker’s sympathies are clear: “The First World isn’t that different to the Third World. Everything looks different, more opulent — everything except the look in the eye of those who are helpless to resist the power. That look in the eye is the same the world over. A look that Westerners have trained themselves not to see” (p.57). Elsewhere he adds, “The world of Sweet One is pointing to the conclusion that we still are a colonial society, that we as a society are stuck in the mud, and can’t get out” (Fremantle Pres book reading notes 2014, 2 of 5).