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THE STEWARD

Pascoe Bruce waded through the shallows at the mouth of Mallacoota Inlet, an estuary in southeastern Australia, on the Tasman Sea. He had a slight frown on his weathered face and a plastic bucket in hand as he lifted tree snags caught on sandbars.

“Not a one mussel left,” he said, climbing back onboard his runabout. “I can’t understand it. There were plenty last week.” Pascoe gunned the boat’s engine and headed for another bed. A lean man in his late 60s, he found more success after digging around with his bare toes, the tip of his long white beard damp as he bent in deeper water to grab up a dozen clams. He passed me the bucket and hauled up the anchor. I looked at the unfamiliar contents—like Pascoe, they were bearded and crusted in mud. “Blood cockles,” Pascoe said. “My people ate them when they were starving.”

Pascoe is descended from the Bunurong people of the Kulin nation, an alliance of indigenous groups that occupied southcentral Victoria for some 40,000 years before European settlement in the early 19th century. A writer whose work is based on that legacy, Pascoe has lately turned to the

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