The Sparrows of Edward Street by Elizabeth Stead

Aria Sparrow is 17 andstruggling to help her mother,Hanora, and younger sister,Elizabeth Rose, cope with thegrim realities of living in adisused army camp that hasbecome the dreaded housingcommission settlement on thefringe of Sydney in 1948.

Row upon row of corrugated iron huts are setin the dust, with gaps between the walls andceilings that let in the searing heat and the icycold. Hanora medicates herself into a hazeand Elizabeth Rose, like the royal she’s namedafter, feels the humiliation of homelessnessand dependency. It is Aria, as our narrator,who lives up to the family name: Sparrow.These tiny birds thrive by picking through thedebris, their sharp eyes finding the next scrap;and always willing to fight for their share.

She ekes a living as a photographer’s modelin the city, paid a pitttance to ‘love’ everythingfrom sandsoap to vegetables. Her bigbreasts are what she plainly knows as her‘currencies’ and also what prevents her fromentering the more lucrative world of theflat and curveless professional model. Backin the camp, with ‘the theatre of this daylifted a grubby curtain to the drama of fadedhopes’, she can’t help but take an interest inthe lives and sufferings of other residents.Aria is torn between doing the right thingfor everyone and using her ‘currencies’ tojump ahead of the queue for a flat: who willhelp her family if she doesn’t? Covering anembarrassing chapter of New South Wales’social history, this is an interesting read forlovers of post-war fiction and the humourfound amongst the struggle to survive.

Kath Lockett is a freelance writer and reviewer.

Cover image for The Sparrows Of Edward Street

The Sparrows Of Edward Street

Elizabeth Stead

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