Un­usual story of high seas

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - BOOKS - WAR­REN BREWER

WHEN THE NIGHT COMES

By Favel Par­rett ( Ha­chette Aus­tralia 2013, $ 27.95)

WHY do peo­ple de­velop un­usual per­sonal at­tach­ments to boats or ships that they own or have con­nec­tions with?

Some an­swers to this ques­tion are to be found within the sub­stance of this un­usual story.

The love of boats is par­tic­u­larly preva­lent in Tas­ma­nia, where there are more reg­is­tered own­ers per capita than any other state or ter­ri­tory in Aus­tralia.

The deeply emo­tional rec­ol­lec­tions shared in this story pro­vide in­sights into the sen­si­tiv­i­ties that shape these re­la­tion­ships and as­pi­ra­tions.

A shared bond with the tena­cious lit­tle Antarc­tic sup­ply ship, the Nella Dan, cre­ates the cen­tral pres­ence in this story.

Although fic­tion­alised, the gen­tle power of the nar­ra­tive car­ries the con­vic­tion of strongly em­bed­ded per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences.

The Nella Dan is an icon in the an­nals of Tas­ma­nian ship­ping.

It is a pity it lies deep in 3000 fath­oms of wild wa­ters off re­mote Mac­quarie Is­land.

Launched in 1961 in Den­mark and based in Ho­bart, for more than a quar­ter of a cen­tury it pro­vided a re­li­able and brave life­line for sci­en­tists and ex­pe­di­tion­ers at the Aus­tralian base at Casey in Antarc­tica.

At just over 200ft long it was small for an ice­breaker. Its vivid red and an un­usu­ally high flared bow made a de­fi­ant state­ment to the el­e­ments it con­fronted and to those who ad­mired, even loved, her.

The story is con­structed, in part, in a di­ary for­mat. The lan­guage is plain, per­sonal and sim­ple. The en­tries are brief, emo­tional and hon­est.

The con­trib­u­tors are Isla, a school­girl and the youngest in a bro­ken mi­grant fam­ily now liv­ing with her mother and brother in West Ho­bart.

Bo is a cook who joined the Nella Dan as a late teenager on its maiden voy­age.

In Ho­bart, Bo rents a room with the fam­ily dur­ing the ship’s lay­overs. He brings qual­i­ties of com­pas­sion and prac­ti­cal use­ful­ness and makes com­fort­ing links with the fam­ily’s shared home­land. Thus the bonds de­velop. Bo’s ac­count of the hellish voy­ages in the wildest wa­ters imag­in­able are riv­et­ing.

He en­dures the tor­ture with the ship and shares its fight for sur­vival.

The bond be­tween ship and man is forged in the thin layer of steel that sur­rounds and pro­tects them. The tragic scut­tling of the ship is like a death in the fam­ily.

A large gath­er­ing of mourn­ers gath­ered with flow­ers and flags at the pier in Ho­bart as the sur­viv­ing cap­tain is brought home by the res­cue tug.

This is Tas­ma­nian au­thor Favel Par­rett’s sec­ond novel. Her first, Past The Shal­lows, earnt her a Miles Franklin short- list­ing in 2011 and the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing iden­ti­fied as the best New­comer of the Year by the Aus­tralian Book In­dus­try.

This book has the same po­etic ca­dences and a sim­ple so­phis­ti­ca­tion of ex­pres­sion that makes it em­i­nently read­able.

This is an evoca­tive story el­e­gantly told that will have spe­cial ap­peal to those who are sea­far­ers, real or imag­i­nary.

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