In D'Arcy Niland's The Shiralee, a pastoral tale of itinerant worker Macaulay and his four-year-old daughter, Buster, actor James Condon pitch-perfectly creates a cast of unmistakeable characters straight out of the Australian countryside. As they drift through towns looking for work and a place to sleep, Macaulay considers Buster to be a "shiralee", something burdensome in local parlance, and his resentment is clear. Buster chips away at Macauley's hard exterior until he can't imagine life without her. Condon's ear for the way people talk complements Niland's vivid descriptions, bringing rural Australia and this unique relationship clearly into focus.
Strangers to each other at first, father and daughter drift aimlessly through the dusty towns of Australia, sleeping rough and relying on odd jobs for food and money. Buster's resilience and trust slowly erode Macauley's resentment, and when he's finally able to get rid of her, he realises he can't let his shiralee go.
In evocative prose that vividly conjures images of rural Australia, The Shiralee reveals an understanding of the paradoxical nature of the burdens we carry and creates a moving portrait of fatherhood, told with gruff humour and a gentle pathos.
©2009 D'Arcy Niland; (P)2009 Bolinda
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