Coming Rain

Stephen Daisley

Coming Rain
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Coming Rain

Stephen Daisley

They returned to the main part of the shed and it was Lew’s turn to sharpen his cutters. The woolshed now bright and well lit. Painter walked to his stand and connected the handpiece to the down-rod. He drizzled oil over the comb and the cutter, adjusted the tension and pulled the rope to engage the running gear. The handpiece buzzed and he studied it for a moment, pulled the rope again to disengage the running gear. Repeated the process with his spare handpiece. Filled the oil can and stepped to the catching-pen door, leaned on it and looked at the sheep in the pen. Lit a cigarette, waiting for Lew.

Western Australia, the wheatbelt. Lew McLeod has been travelling and working with Painter Hayes since he was a boy. Shearing, charcoal burning-whatever comes. Painter made him his first pair of shoes. It’s a hard and uncertain life but it’s the only one he knows.

But Lew’s a grown man now. And with this latest job, shearing for John Drysdale and his daughter Clara, everything will change.

Stephen Daisley writes in lucid, rippling prose of how things work, and why; of the profound satisfaction in hard work done with care, of love and friendship and the damage that both contain.

Review

Set in 1956, Coming Rain delves into Australian bush mythology to examine romantic notions of mateship. Itinerant shearers, Painter and Lew, are a makeshift father and son team, unrelated but thrown together when Lew is placed in Painter’s care by his mother. When adolescent Lew falls for a squatter’s daughter, trouble brews. Wildness, and the possibility and futility of taming it, becomes a key theme.

The opening scenes introduce an unexpected heroine, a dingo searching desperately for prey to nourish her unborn pups. Cut then to a sad and sultry war widow emerging from the surf on Cottlesloe beach. A fight ensues between lifesavers and the shearers, one that foreshadows the novel’s preoccupations with love, violence, abandonment, class, loneliness, trust and loyalty.

Flipping back and forth between the shearers’ lives and the dingo’s quest for survival, there is frequent violence, unsettling and graphically depicted. Men brawl. Animals are hunted, culled and kill each other but Coming Rain is also a revelation in its quiet and beautiful observation of labour and landscape. Daisley’s reverence and knowledge of the outback transcends the cliché of heat, dust and flies, inviting readers into a mesmerising world of desert flora and fauna. Indigenous terms mingle with language that is direct and visceral. The minutiae of the woolshed and animal behaviour are brought to life with skill and affection.


Sally Keighery is a freelance reviewer.

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