But this excerpt from Meme McDonald’s Love Like Water comes close to making me understand how for some people, the remote Australian Outback is the only place that’s really home.
Cathy has come to Alice Springs from cattle country. She’s left home because inheritances go to sons not daughters, and the man she was going to marry killed himself in a foolish crop-dusting stunt. Now she’s in town, she’s got herself a job as a barmaid and her feet are sore, so she takes solace in the dry bed of the ephemeral Todd River.
Water or no water, the flow of this sometimes river bed helped wash away the soreness. Reminded her of the sand hollow back home. Some afternoons, when the work was done early and the heat was backing off the day, she’d saddle up and ride out to the distant line of timber. The scrub was thick. She had to ride with her face nuzzled into mane, ducking branches. The box gums and wilga and sandalwood crouched low round a circle of sand that gathered water in the wet, drawing in kangaroo and emu, goanna and flocks of birds at dawn and dusk. Most of the year the hollow stayed dry but cool, away from a sun that pounded the open plains. She’d lie back, listening for voices whispering on the wind, coming through the trees. She never doubted the trees told stories, but voices on the wind were not the kind of thing she’d spoken about, not to anyone.
The afternoon before she left, she’d ridden out with a special purpose – to say goodbye. When she’d stirruped back up into the saddle and headed out of the timber, she turned and watched the shadow of horse and rider stretching back to the trees. She had cast around for details to take with her, coming loose from everything she knew but had never named. Tufts of bleached Mitchell grass were chewed to the ground, hanging on for rain. Her mare knew better than to pull on the reins and pick at stubble in the lame hope of finding something green hidden there, but she too was out of sorts that day. That day the sun had set raw. The evening star had shone like a solitaire, an engagement ring in the sky. She had felt too empty for making wishes.
Love Like Water, by Meme McDonald, Allen & Unwin, 2008, p120-1
Availability: Fishpond: Love Like Water
I will be chatting with Meme McDonald about her inspiration for this remarkable book at the Stonnington [Untitled] Literary Festival here in Melbourne on Saturday November 17th in a session entitled Inspired Writing.
Other local authors on the panel include
- Toni Jordan, whose books reviewed on this blog include Nine Days, and Fall Girl
- Helen Brown, author of After Cleo Came Jonah and
- Fiona Wood, author of Six Impossible Things.
The festival kicks off with a launch by Shane Maloney on Thursday 15th November and runs through to Sunday 18th November with guests including Paddy O’Reilly, Hazel Brown, Terence Donovan, Sofie Laguna, Bronnie Masefau, Peter Rose, Mike Rosel, and Gabrielle Williams. For further details, see the festival program.
All festival events are free and open to all, but bookings are essential.