The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Philip Mead

ex­am­ple, Pur­chase (Northamp­ton) re­lates an ex­treme of that pe­cu­liarly Aus­tralian sel­f­re­liance and in­de­pen­dence in the story of an anony­mous sin­gle-par­ent fa­ther, a hard­drink­ing FIFO miner, who punches a fist into his hand, yelling ‘‘ No neigh­bours! No neigh­bours!’’. Af­ter his liver packs it in, this fa­ther, his son, and the re­tired cou­ple who buy the prop­erty next door make up a frag­ilely sup­port­ive mi­cro-community of four. In bal­ance with this, there is a thread of fore­bod­ing about the long-term ef­fects of the ex-lead mine they all live on.

Towns are an­gry and fear­ful, but in­di­vid­u­als are al­ways un­pre­dictably them­selves. A les­bian cou­ple’s baby dis­solves the ho­mo­pho­bia of a small town; a re­spected old re­turned sol­dier des­e­crates a town’s war memo­rial. Why, we’re not ac­tu­ally sure but it has some­thing to do with his time as a pris­oner of war. How could we know? In one of the most as­ton­ish­ing and mov­ing of these sto­ries, The Grad­u­a­tion (Northam), a vi­o­lently abu­sive fa­ther qui­etly stands up for his son against a mock­ing school crowd (schools are in­vari­ably bad col­lec­tives in Kin­sella’s wheat­lands).

The ti­tle story is a tale about a town’s protest at the vin­dic­tive act by one of its own in chop­ping down an old tree in the town cen­tre beloved of gen­er­a­tions.

Brian ‘‘ Big Mac’’ McPher­son buys the land the tree is on for the fast-food out­let he wants to build. It’s a minia­ture about de­vel­op­ment, but the point is the dark and ul­ti­mately in­com­pre­hen­si­ble hu­man mo­ti­va­tions that drive small-town civic pol­i­tics. McPher­son deeply de­sires moder­nity and progress. A protest, the first ever in 150 years of the life of the town, is led by Kerri-ann, who has ‘‘ a way of undoing doc­trine about her’’. As Kerri-ann re­veals to McPher­son — their fam­i­lies have been en­twined for gen­er­a­tions — the shady tree had its birth in the joint plant­ing of the tree by his grand­par­ents. So he has de­mol­ished some­thing of him­self be­cause progress and de­vel­op­ment de­mand it. But it’s un­clear whose spirit will pre­vail in the po­lit­i­cal fu­ture of the town, Kerri-ann’s or Big Mac’s.

The great skill of these sto­ries, which is also their per­spi­cac­ity about hu­man­ity, is their avoid­ance of nar­ra­tive set-ups and pay-offs. Al­ways, lives and sit­u­a­tions are in­con­clu­sive, even in the pres­ence of the mirac­u­lous. There are also bril­liant cameos of cul­tural anal­y­sis, such as the read­ing of the EK Holden in Em­bar­rassed (Dow­erin re­gion), worth the price of the book alone.

John Kin­sella can see into the heart of the coun­try, and the ev­i­dence of these taut, com­plex sto­ries is that what he sees there is both fe­ro­cious and un­re­solved.

John Kin­sella

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