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When Ernie poured his money into a wheat farm in Western Australia, he thought he was securing a future for wife Lily and daughter Girlie. But it’s 1932 and the Depression is hitting hard. The promised government subsidies fail to eventuate and the house Ernie has inherited from his father burns down in a mysterious fire; worse still, it isn’t insured. This is where we join the Hass family, packing up, leaving their Aboriginal home-help to be sent back to the mission, and heading for Dongarra on the coast. Ernie is hiding his shame behind a veil of optimism and Lily is a well of sadness cloaked in pull-yourself-together gumption. Girlie is 10 and understands little, not just of the harsh realities of her family’s plight, but also of the web of secrets that has brought them to this. Once in Dongarra, Lily sets about transforming a tumbledown warehouse into a guesthouse and home while also trying to climb the social ladder within the tight-knit community. Perception is all in Dongarra and she and Ernie pray that vicious gossip from their past doesn’t catch up with them. Then into this fractured world comes Tommy, who has tracked down his sister Lily and is suffering from shellshock. Lily wants to help him, but Ernie is less welcoming. This beautifully written, intense tale of a family’s heart-rending search for belonging is Kali Napier’s debut novel, but there’s a sophistication to her storytelling. The secrets of the title unfurl slowly with hints dripping through every page. But it’s the characters that make this tale, steeped in the racial tensions of the day. “The story was loosely inspired by my ancestors,” Kali says. “There are many gaps in my family tree as a result of migration, estrangement and second marriages. The few stories I was told in my younger years are my only connections. When I gave my daughter a synopsis of The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge, she sobbed, thinking the daughter-character, Girlie, was her. I told her she was wrong – Girlie is me!” The most poignant observations come from wide-eyed Girlie, who is indeed the moral compass of the novel.