ISBN 10: 1460757866
Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
The inaugural Banjo Prize competition attracted 320 entries but it was Taking Tom Murray Home that took out the first prize with its truly authentic Australian voice. Tim Slee’s novel bristles with laconic wit, quirky characters and bitter-sweet emotions and underlines with eloquence the dilemmas faced by so many of our rural Aussies who are doing it tough.
When the bank forecloses on Tom Murray’s dairy farm he is determined to go down in a blaze – literally. He sells off his stock, empties the house of his family’s possessions and burns it down. Unfortunately Tom is trapped in the fire probably due to his weak heart problem and loses his life. His widow Dawn refuses to allow his death be in vain and decides to take his body to Melbourne for burial thinking the several hundred kilometre ‘funeral procession’ from their small rural town will offer people pause for thought on the plight of so many struggling country folk. She is persuaded to take the coffin on the back of a neighbour’s vintage horse-drawn milk cart for even more impact and so begins a poignant, fraught and dramatic passive protest.
Told from the viewpoint of Jack, son of Tom and Dawn and twin of Jenny, the journey begins with a local drama when the town bank burns down. Immediately, the whole protest/procession takes on a new and controversial aspect. As the travellers move slowly towards Melbourne they are joined by supporters of all types, thwart the frustrated police who try to find ways to stop them and alerted to a wave of fires that are erupting around the country targeting banks and supermarkets – who are seen as the corporate buddies threatening the livelihoods and lives of the farmers. Rallied by stirring words and the community spirit the grief and loss and frustration are eased and bolstered by hope and possibilities.
The twist in the end is both a surprise and a damning indictment of the pressures put upon the families who are fighting for their survival and will give many readers cause to reflect on actions that could make a difference to those who are the ‘backbone’ of our country.
While essentially a novel that would be equally enjoyed and appreciated by readers both young and old, there is a liberal sprinkling of swearing which might preclude younger readers if you were to put this in your school library.
Highly recommended for readers from around 14 years upwards.