Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 10, 2011

Opening Lines: Tirra Lirra by the River (1978), by Jessica Anderson

I don’t have a nice first edition of this well-loved Australian classic, not yet, so the cover at left is the 1997 Picador Edition instead. Jessica Anderson won the Miles Franklin Award for the first time with Tirra Lirra by the River in 1978, (and went on to win it again with The Impersonators in 1980).

These are the opening lines:

I arrive at the house wearing a suit – greyish, it doesn’t matter. It is wool because even in these sub-tropical places spring afternoons can be cold. I am wearing a plain felt hat with a brim, and my bi-focal spectacles with the chain attached. I am not wearing the gloves Fred gave me because I have left them behind in the car, but I don’t know that yet.

The front stairs are just as I visualized them on the plane, fourteen planks spanning air, like a broad ladder propped against the verandah. The man who drove me here from the railway station sorts his keys as he bustles to take precedence of me. He is about sixty, tall and ponderous, with a turtle head. He introduced himself on the railway platform, but already I have forgotten his name. I am exhausted, holding myself by will-power above a black area of total collapse. My nephew in Sydney warned me about the train journey. ‘Six hundred miles, Aunt Nora,’ he said. But I wouldn’t listen; I said I simply adored trains. ‘You won’t adore that one,’ said Peter. But I said of course I should; I adored all trains.

The truth is, I was terrified to fly again.

So begins the story of Nora, coming back in her seventies, to her childhood home in Queensland after many years abroad.  Things are not the way they were, not the way she remembered them.  I read and journalled this novel back in 2003 and I’m shortly going to post my thoughts about it…

There’s a beaut review of Jessica Anderson’s The Commandant at Whispering Gums.

Tirra Lirra by the River Author: Jessica Anderson
Title: Tirra Lirra by the River
Publisher: Picador 1997
ISBN: 9780330359719
Source: Personal Library, bought so long ago that it has a price tag of only $16.95!

Fishpond: Tirra Lirra by the River


  1. Oh, I loved this book but I read it so long ago – back in about 1988 – that I have been feeling in recent years that I really want to read it again. Margaret Fink, I think, really wanted to produce a movie on this but it hasn’t ever eventuated. What a pity.


    • Did you read the scathing review that I linked to in the review, Sue? He’s a screen-writer, maybe an influential one?


      • So behind. Am working in Newman WA this week and finding to time to read, comment and blog is very difficult. I’ve just skimmed the review — intersting perspective. I do like his way with words – such as describing Colin as “a ponderous assassin of the soul”. I’d have to reread Tirra Lirra again though to see just how much I agree or take issue with him as it was a long long time ago that I read it.


        • I think he’s an interesting new-for-me voice in blogdom, and I like that he’s not afraid to be provocative.


  2. I read the review. I don’t think it is scathing. It’s balanced in that it points out the perceived strengths as well as weaknesses of the novel. I don’t agree with him on the weaknesses e.g. that her writing is only prosaic and passable compared to The Aunt’s Story by Patrick White (which I would like to read, but I think unfair to compare). I do agree with him on its strengths e.g.
    “The ultimate destination of Tirra Lirra, and its redeeming grace, is such meditation on memory, and how it constructs a person for their own understanding”.
    And I do wish that Margaret Fink had been able to produce a movie of this novel with Jane Campion as screenwriter and director.


    • I think that first paragraph is pretty scathing, (stucco-crusted, green tea and potpourri etc) though you’re right, he does go on to mention redeeming features etc. I liked his review because even though he’s tough on Anderson he’s out there tackling the well-loved sacred icons of our literary history and placing them in a contemporary context.
      But I don’t think it’s fair to compare Anderson with White either. To write well, an author doesn’t need to have to write as well as a Nobel Prize winner.


  3. […] Lirra by the River, by Jessica Anderson Having just posted the opening lines of  Tirra Lirra by the River, I’ve been re-reading my thoughts about it from my 2003 reading […]


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: