Tragedies and truths from long ago

Townsville Bulletin - - NQ Life - Mary Ver­non

By El­iz­a­beth Stead, UQP $ 29.95 STEAD has fo­cused on a time in Aus­tralia which few of us know much about. It’s 1948 and widow Hanora Spar­row has fallen on hard times. When she, with her two daugh­ters Aria and Rosy, is thrown out of her rather in­ad­e­quate flat the only place left to go is a ‘‘ Hous­ing Com­mis­sion camp’’, a dis­used mil­i­tary camp left over from the war where a se­ries of di­lap­i­dated tin sheds had been di­vided into units in a dusty pad­dock some­where in outer sub­ur­ban Syd­ney. The story is told by 18-year-old Aria, a tough-minded, de­ter­mined girl who has s up­ported her f am­ily, f i nan­cially and emo­tion­ally, f or years.

As they set­tle into the camp Rosy, who works for a milliner, re­fuses to par­tic­i­pate in camp life, but Aria takes over – find­ing peo­ple jobs, sort­ing out their lives.

At the same time she pur­sues her job as an as­pir­ing model – de­scrip­tions of her ‘‘ lov­ing’’ bath clean­ers, sham­poos, rub­ber gloves and all man­ner of other prod­ucts are a hi­lar­i­ous high­light.

The six months that they spend at the camp cover a lot of ground for all of them, and a lot of ground for the other in­hab­i­tants as well.

Stead has a sure touch and brings this long-ago era to life along with its hard­ships and tragedies, its tri­umphs and suc­cesses.

It is in­ter­est­ing, too, to see what peo­ple ac­cepted in those days – can’t imag­ine any­one these days mak­ing the best of liv­ing in a leaky, drafty bit of a shed with a mal­func­tion­ing wood stove sitting in a sea of ei­ther dust or mud, de­pend­ing on the sea­son.

It’s fas­ci­nat­ing, funny and sad, all at the same time.

In a word: Riv­et­ing The Spar­rows of Ed­ward Street

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