"The story of Michael Doolan and his development to manhood is appropriately set against the wide background of the Gulf Country in the north of Australia. For Michael's growth from childhood and adolescence, and his long search for his father, Paddy Doolan, is told with a largeness of dimension that is one of the most striking features of this excellent novel. Elizabeth O'Conner is well-known for her light-hearted and deservedly popular book, Steak for Breakfast. In this novel she has moved on to a subject that gives more scope to her unquestioned powers.
"Michael is disturbed in childhood by the conflicts that his father seems inevitably to generate - in his family relationships and with his fellow-townsmen. When, later, his living as a teamster is threatened by the advent of motor-transport, Paddy Doolan goes to the coast to sell his team, and Michael, realizing that his father will never return, sets out on his long search for him.
"Michael's inarticulate, determined development is emphasized by his father's inherent weaknesses, and also by the decline of the township where they live before the family breaks up. The gold-mines give out, the town declines in prosperity, and its people drift away. It is as though the fortunes of most of the people in the book are shaped and broken by time, whereas Michael, monosyllabic, loyal, and stubborn, shapes his own fortunes.
"Elizabeth O'Conner's sense of the dramatic is balanced by her sensitivity and compassion as she traces the fine threads that bind character to character.
"Of The Irishman, Eleanor Dark says: Elizabeth O'Conner has the gift of conveying much in a few words; without elaborate analysis, she creates real people, and without overmuch description, she shows a vivid and authentic scene. The perception, tolerance and humour with which she tells her story and reveals her characters make this a book which is often moving, but never sentimental."
About the Author:
Elizabeth's O'Conner's life has been set against a background of writers and writing almost since childhood: her father is Eric Lowe, the Australian novelist; her mother has published many short stories; Eleanor Dark, author of The Timeless Land is a friend who has always encouraged her writing.
Elizabeth O'Conner is the pen name of Barbara McNamara. She was born at Dunedoo, N.S.W., where her father owned a sheep property. She studied art in Adelaide and under Julian Ashton in Sydney; and she was Junior House Mistress on the staff of a Brisbane girls' boarding school. She met her husband while staying on a North Queensland cattle station. For fifteen years he managed Forest Home on the Gilbert River, and is now managing a property nearer the Atherton Tablelands. Besides bringing up four children and looking after a large homestead, Barbara McNamara devotes what time she can spare to writing.
Her first book, Steak for Breakfast, is about her life in the Gulf Country. It took two years to write and became an Australian best seller.
The boy walked alone, following the dusty path from the river, his lips drawn into a silent whistle, his bare feet scuffing at the loose soil, sending it in soft brown billows in front of him. He passed the joss-house and looked sideways, barely turning his head. Sometimes, if no one was about, he and his mates would slide stealthily in the door to look at the strange, doll-like gods that sat with fat complacence upon the broad altar. To stretch tentative fingers towards the rich gold leaf. To watch the changing colours in the facets of the long glass beads that swayed and glinted with every breath of air.
But today Michael was aware of eyes that watched him intently, of a smooth oriental face - unsmiling.
He hurried on, his whistle suddenly shrill, his head flung defiantly high.
From the Angus and Robertson hardback edition, 1961.
This novel won the Miles Franklin Award in 1960.
This page and its contents are copyright © 2001 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Larrikin Literature Page.
Last modified: September 11, 2001.