Jeanine Leane UQP 2011 / ISBN: 9780702238956 RRP: $24.95 160pp
I loved this David Unaipon Award Winning collection of stories from the first page. Not just because the author is Wiradjuri, or because the narrator ‘Sunny’ told me the story of the dog on the Tuckerbox at Gundagai (which I’ve driven past dozens of times). Not even because the tales are full of country humour. But I fell in love with the story of strong, capable women, living without fear on the land, protecting their home and kin, saving young dying farm animals, while offering readers pearls of wisdom told in their own bush English.
Young Sunny (named after the sunshine) was raised by her Nan, and her Auntie’s Boo (Beulah) and Bubby (Lily). Her own mother Petal was the wild sister; the negligent, self-absorbed, impatient mother, still treated like the baby of the family and often favouring Sunny’s baby sister Star. It is the relationship between these women and girls and some of the locals, that drive the stories in this compact volume.
Nan is a staunch Christian, but Aunty Boo gives Catholics a roasting when she can. She also has some good advice for girls, claiming that men can’t be trusted nor trained, and that a good dog is worth all the men in the world rolled into one. And while Aunty Boo loves to swear and read history books, Aunty Bubby much prefers to be buried in a romance novel. Can you see how fabulous the scenes for these characters might be?
Ironically, I read this novel sitting on a rock at Maroubra Beach, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, and immediately found myself emersed in the dry country landscape of central New South Wales:
'The stones that sat in the dry creek beds braced their bleached faces against the midday sun and stared back at the thirsty land. At the edge of the crops on the plain, brown snakes rattled the hollow wheat and the ears clicked eerily in the hot wind. A spark could ignite a huge firestorm of dry grasses and grains that would burn like a furnace.'
Within this landscape are the townsfolk, ‘The women in town sat in their cotton print dresses on cool verandahs of blue-grey river stone and fanned themselves with imitation oriental fans as they drank weak tea from fine china cups… Aunty Boo said they looked like sad dolls.’ And in this readers eye, they do.
Leane's work made me feel good about my roots in country New South Wales, and I’ll be giving the book to others from the area this Christmas who are also city-slickers in Sydney!
Get a copy Purple Threads for yourself as your own Christmas present, and find somewhere comfy with a cup of tea and sit and listen to the Aunties yarn.