ISBN 10: 1409570517
Imprint: Usborne – GB
List Price: 14.99 AUD
Rarely have I read a book which so captures the Australian landscape, isolation and the deep abiding racism of times gone past which has been written by a non-Australian but this is superb. Taut, thrilling and anxiety-making the narrative follows the friendship of young Comity, daughter of the district telegrapher and Fred, Aboriginal yard boy, and their persecution by a sadistic and depraved assistant to the telegraph station. After Comity’s mother dies from snake bite, Comity is left to fend for herself, keep intrusive relatives at bay via long distance and try to manage house and the duties of the station as her father withdraws deeper and deeper into depression.
Comity has grown up with Fred whom she considers her best friend. He teaches her about the country, the spirits and survival while she teaches him reading and ‘whitefella’ ways. When cruel assistant Quartz Hogg arrives he quickly sums up the situation with Comity’s ineffectual father and sets about usurping his authority, turning his employees against him, setting up an illegal still and worst of all victimising Fred.
When all pretence of compliance breaks down between Hogg and his supervisor, Comity’s father is locked in the despatch room while his assistant and the other hands begin a drunken spree which ends in Fred being hunted like an animal into the wilderness. Comity is desperate to save him and has to rely on the ‘ghans, who are also despised by the white people, to help both of them.
This is not a novel for sensitive young readers but it is an insightful and beautifully written exploration of grief, loneliness, self-reliance, courage as well as the cruelty and prejudices of some humans.
I would recommend it for astute readers from around 12 years upwards – I really enjoyed it very much.