One For the Master
"When Helen Plathe sets out along the Barwon River path for her first day at the Highlands woollen mill, she is following in the footsteps of her mother, her uncle and her grandfather. Inside Highlands' tall black gates, Helen is initiated into an extraordinary world and discovers its secret history.
"Like a medieval castle, the bluestone tower of Highlands casts a long shadow over those who work there -- the maverick Queenie Bisset, railing against a world of men who 'liked neat ideas, and liked their women to be neat as well'; Helen's uncle, Lennie Pritchard, tragically thwarted in his bid to make a new life outside the mill; young Wally Sullivan, torn between his family and his struggle to keep the mill afloat; and the mysterious Miss Foot, silent witness to the decline of an industry that has ruled the lives of the people aong the river from generation to generation."
Ghosts form in the damp air above the banks of the Barwon River. I meet them there at dusk, when they take shape out of the yellow mist that hangs over what used to be Highlands woollen mill.
Though the mist is always present, it often drifts into tatters and re-forms; this is the time for ghosts.
The Barwon is not a big river, except when it's in flood. I sit by it in the evenings until dark, sometimes late into the night. I listen to the ghosts, and they tell me their stories.
Behind me are the shells of huge buildings, which no river mist can hide. The air itself seems to stand in awe of them. Once they were woollen mills, noisy and dirty, bumptious and solid as rocks, their boilers spitting out steam, their dye vats a poisonous, rainbow-coloured cocktail.
It is one of life's small ironies that land along the river now is worth so little that no one has bothered to pull the mills down and build something else in their place.
From the Wakefield Press paperback edition, 1997.
This novel was shortlisted the Miles Franklin Award in 1997.
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Last modified: January 26, 2006.