HOW EXACTLY IS THIS STORYTELLER IMPLICATED IN HIS OR HER STORY?
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.