You enter this novel through the mind of a pregnant female dingo, and this sets the scene for a tale of hard yakka in a merciless country.
Lew has been travelling with Painter since his mum gave him to a shearing contractor, in the hope that he’d have a better life “off the sheep’s back”. Painter was the ringer, since then gone to drink and ruin, now only Lew keeps up with him. They find work where they can, shearing and labouring, prospecting in the slow times.
Coming Rain tells the coming-of-age of Lew, alongside that of our female dingo, who is smarter than she knows. The first time we see Lew, he is on a beach, saying hello to a woman who emerges dripping from the ocean. The life guards warn them off her, because of how they look – scruffy, poor – but she takes a liking to him and so he experiences his first time.
The dingo takes on a young wounded male as run mate. She takes pity on him as he puts himself at her mercy, and they run together, their respective packs gone to the gun. As Lew and Painter move together in a barren landscape, their stories echo each other, with street smarts being pitted against instinct. Daisley writes dingo so convincingly, he might find himself cast in the role of dingo behavioural expert one day soon.
The theme of social class becomes predominant as the novel moves on, with Lew’s infatuation with the daughter of the owner of the farm at which they are shearing forbidden, not only by the half-crazed landowner, who recently lost his wife, but by Painter. But the theme doesn’t override the story: the characters live as you read them, there is nothing that is contrived.
Coming Rain had, of course, already won the Acorn Foundation Literary Prize when I picked it up to read. I was intrigued by the appeal of the unknown writer – and one, as the publicist on the night of the Awards said, with ‘such a great back story.’ I expected something a bit like Tim Winton at his wildest – Dirt Music, perhaps – but Daisley isn’t that type of writer. He uses vernacular, he is more sparing with his words; he tells the story straight.
A fascinating story, well worth adding to your bookshelves.
Reviewed by Sarah Forster
by Stephen Daisley
Published by Text Publishing