Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 22, 2008

Fly Away Peter(1982), by David Malouf

fly-away-peterIt’s coincidence, because I have always liked David Malouf’s writing, that I finished reading Fly Away Peter just as it was announced that he has won the inaugural Australia-Asia Book Prize for The Complete Stories. Malouf has won many awards, including The Age Book of the Year for Fly Away Peter in 1982, the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal in 1983, the Miles Franklin in 1991 for The Great World, and  Remembering Babylon was shortlisted for the Booker in 1993 and won the IMPAC Award in 1996.  ANZLitLovers read The Conversations at Curlow Creek which was shortlisted for The Age Book of the Year and the Miles Franklin, (and for some bizarre reason rated it only 7.  I think we were a bit miserly with our rating scale in those days).  Malouf has an AO too, in a rare recognition of Australian literature in our honours system…

Judging by the sample essays that surged to the top of a Google search list, Fly Away Peter is often studied in high schools.  It’s short, and it depicts the horrors of WW1 so it’s probably a popular choice in our ANZAC-obsessed culture.  I hope that it is taught well and that some of the students who study it come to appreciate its wonderful literary qualities as well as its theme.

It is the story of a country boy, Jim Saddler, who loves birds.  Miss Harcourt, a much older woman, loves them too, and through this unlikely friendship they study and photograph the birdlife on the Queensland Gold Coast, unspoiled as it was in 1914.  He forms another unlikely friendship with Ashley Crowther, a  wealthy young pastoralist, as they share a love of the landscape which transcends differences of class and education.

War comes, and reluctantly swept up in the fervour to join the fight, Jim is plunged into the horror of trench warfare so graphically depicted in Malouf’s unrelenting images.  He is brutal in his depiction of the mechanisation of warfare, and the way in which the men in the trenches had no option but to endure.

There is a dreamy quality to Jim, and a habit of living life moment-to-moment.  The moment when his mate Clancy is so nauseatingly killed is all the more intense because of this, and Jim’s reaction is all the more memorable because of his recognition that he can never be really clean again.  When Ashley rescues him from the ‘block’ there is a brief moment of hope, quickly extinguished.  It’s very powerful.

The only novel by Malouf I have yet to read is Harland’s Half Acre (1984).  I have ordered a copy through Biblioz. (Update 1/6/16 See my review).

Author: David Malouf
Title: Fly Away Peter
Publisher: Vintage 1999
ISBN 9780099273820
Source: Personal library


  1. I’m looking at some of your old reviews and came across this. I LOVE this book. It’s on my list of (pick-a-number) favourite books. It’s beautifully realised isn’t it – and so tightly written. I must read it again.


  2. Hi Sue – he’s such a wonderful author, isn’t he? I have just bought Ransom and am so looking forward to reading it…


  3. […] David Malouf, Fly away Peter (1982) (Lisa’s review) […]


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