An­i­mal pas­sions run high in shear­ers’ tale

The Weekend Australian - Review - - BOOKS - Peter Pierce

Com­ing Rain By Stephen Dais­ley Text Pub­lish­ing, 320pp, $29.99 Af­ter win­ning the Prime Min­is­ter’s Lit­er­ary Award in 2011 with his first novel, Traitor, Stephen Dais­ley, then in his mid-50s, ev­i­dently drew breath be­fore de­cid­ing that its suc­ces­sor, Com­ing Rain, should be just as dar­ing, if very dif­fer­ent, in con­cep­tion.

Traitor is the tale of a dec­o­rated, mod­est New Zealand sol­dier, David Mon­roe, who seeks a sep­a­rate peace. De­tailed to mind a Turk­ish prisoner of war, Dr Mah­moud, he at­tempts to es­cape with him. When that fails, Mon­roe is sub­jected to bru­tal field pun­ish­ment, be­fore his brav­ery as a stretcher-bearer leads to a par­don, and even­tu­ally to the re­sump­tion of his pre-war

May 2-3, 2015 life as the best lam­ber in his dis­trict of New Zealand. There is won­der at the heart of a novel that is fi­nally less con­cerned with the hor­rors of war than with the pos­si­bil­i­ties for re­demp­tion that th­ese can­not fore­close.

To each of his nov­els NZ-born Dais­ley, who lives in West­ern Australia, brings his ex­pe­ri­ence of mil­i­tary ser­vice and of ru­ral work, of their im­ple­ments and the skills re­quired to use them. His imag­i­na­tion is vi­talised by the vis­ceral — shear­ing, killing, sad­dling and rid­ing horses, us­ing tools, ac­com­mo­dat­ing to what­ever phys­i­cal sur­round­ings present them­selves.

In Com­ing Rain, Dais­ley fo­cuses on two WA shear­ers. Lew McCleod is an emo­tion­ally cal­low 21-year-old who grew up with­out know­ing his fa­ther and who could shear 180 sheep a day by the age of 16. Painter Hayes is the gnarled older man who has taken care of Lew for years. It is the mid-1950s. The pair find them­selves in a place be­yond their ex­pe­ri­ence: Cottes­loe Beach. ‘‘Got no bear­ings here boy,’’ Hayes tells Lew be­fore start­ing a fight with life­guards who re­sent an old ruf­fian in ‘‘a blue Jackie Howe shearer’s sin­glet’’. Mean­while, Lew falls for Mau­reen O’Reilly, who has walked out of the ocean — and who lost her hus­band in World War II.

This vi­o­lent, dis­con­cert­ing episode is not the be­gin­ning of the novel. Here are its first sen­tences: ‘‘The dingo ran as if she had been here for­ever. Loose jointed, her tongue wet and long and eyes non­cha­lant as she trav­elled.’’ Dais­ley’s nar­ra­tive moves be­tween his imag­in­ing of the cun­ning con­scious­ness of a hunted, hun­gry and preg­nant an­i­mal, and the world of the hu­mans in the vicin­ity of Drys­dale Downs Sta­tion whose paths she crosses.

Run­ning, she seeks ‘‘the cover of scrub land, fringes and hol­lows’’. For this land­scape, Dais­ley pro­vides the Abo­rig­i­nal names. What ‘‘yonga’’, ‘‘kar­rik’’, ‘‘nyarnyee’’, ‘‘balga’’ and ‘‘cum­bungi’’ sig­nify of flora and fauna is made clear by their con­texts. De­scrib­ing the move­ments of the dingo, with an eye trained in the ob­ser­va­tion and un­der­stand­ing of phys­i­cal de­tails, Dais­ley writes of how ‘‘her thirst had been eat­ing her and now she was eat­ing the wa­ter’’. All the time, the pur­suit con­tin­ues.

Lew and Painter have taken work on Drys­dale Downs, whose per­ma­nent res­i­dents are the owner, John Drys­dale, his daugh­ter Clara, first glimpsed as ‘‘six­teen and sit­ting a white geld­ing as if she had grown out of it’’, and Jimmy, the Malay Chi­nese cook. There are ‘‘no black­fel­las’’, for ‘‘old man Drys­dale and Dingo Smith per­suaded them to move down south’’.

Dais­ley care­fully gives the names of the things on the sta­tion, es­tab­lish­ing a par­al­lel spe­cial­ist vo­cab­u­lary to that of the Abo­rig­i­nal lan­guage. There are Trav­eller hats, a Henry Dis­ston and Sons cross­cut saw, Sumac pumps, Baird showers, Cole­man lamps and Kelly axes.

In this world, the nam­ing of the ob­jects that

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.