Tragedies and truths from long ago
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