Sept/Oct 1999 Book Reviews

In the New Country

David Foster
Fourth Estate, 1996 213pp
ISBN: 1 85702 452 4

reviewed by Ann Skea

Well, this book has been an education for me! Amongst other things, I have learned a few choice new Strine phrases, like "a truckie's shower" (a quick squirt of deodorant under each armpit); the words of the Irish convicts' grace - which I won't repeat; a lot about the pyromaniacal tendencies of some Bush Fire Brigade volunteers; and more than I ever wanted to know about the Sydney City to Surf Fun-run.

I have to say, too, that this is a funny book:

"Funny; a. Affording fun, comical, curious, queer, perplexing, hard to account for." (Concise Oxford Dictionary)

Yes, all of those! To start with, if you are not Australian you will probably need to get it translated by a native before you can read it. And if you are not a Sydneysider, you could need a map. If you are not used to Aussie humour, some jokes (like the one about dying in a bushfire wearing plastic, reflective, identification tape on cotton overalls) might make your toes curl. And if you don't know about Koorie Land Rights or Oirish immigration - well, you just might get by, but you'd be better to read up on them first.

The story? Oh yes, that's as dotty as the rest of it.

Mike Hock, (ex?) gun shearer, jogging Bush Fire Brigade captain, and potter, has won the City to Surf run in record time. No one knows he is the winner, because he was wearing a gorilla suit and failed to stop and identify himself to the organisers after crossing the finishing line. Still, nutter or not, with the Olympics coming up and a new, speedy marathon runner around, the organisers want to find him. But only if he's a true-blue Aussie. Otherwise, they "didn't want to know him. Fair enough?".

Enter South-Sea Islander, bible-spouting, Heritage Springer motor-bike-riding "Fed", Harley Springs, to track the gorilla/runner down. Poor Harley meets his end in a confrontation with the Gucci Roo (and that's another story). Mike dies of a coronary, or perhaps it was a needle-stick injury (and that's another story). Assorted firefighters, Fane builders, old boys and Old Boys assemble to gratify local Councillor Ad(am) Hock's urge to stage a tourist promotion exercise (and thereby hangs another tale). And it all ends in fire, fantasy and Reconciliation.

In short, this is a traditional Aussie yarn - complete with crazy cook, sheep shearers, stock-thieves, Oirish characters, madmen, ribald jokes, apocryphal tales and.... er.....a gorilla-suited jogger and a teenage boy who's not sure if he's Arthur or Martha? Obviously this one's told by a typical Aussie joker!


Previous Piece forums serendipity Next Piece

What did you think?