Daily Archives: March 7, 2012

‘Mateship with Birds’ by Carrie Tiffany

2012, 208 p.

This is a quirky, sly book that had me closing it with regret, with a smile on my lips.  It is set in Cohuna in the 1950s and is redolent of long grass, cow-pats, and dusty roads, set to a soundtrack of magpies and kookaburras, country dances and a slow, masculine drawl.

Harry is a shy, lonely dairy farmer who lives next door to Betty, a single mother, who works in the local aged-care home and lives with her adolescent son, Michael and young  daughter Little Hazel.  They are neighbours: they turn to each other in need; they keep an eye out for each other, and as Michael grows older, Harry decides, in the absence of a father,  to teach him about the opposite sex.

But the boundaries between sex, breeding, fertility, physicality and nature are fluid in this strangely sensual context.  The book, too, is a scrapbook of conversations and episodes, birdwatching observations about a kookaburra family, reflections on the physicality of milking cows and washing withered old men, and a chronicle of illness and injuries.  It is a book of the rhythms of country life, and it is both hard and pragmatic and yet watchful and sensitive.

The author is not, as you might suspect, a dinky-die, true-blue Aussie country girl. Instead, she migrated from Yorkshire with her family as a child, grew up in Perth, and works as an agricultural journalist.  The amount of research that must have gone into this book- set in the decade before she was born in another hemisphere- is prodigious, and yet so lightly worn.  As with her debut book Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living, it is a deceptively simple work with good people and big themes.  I hope that it gets the recognition it deserves.

My rating: 9/10

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

Read because: it’s my fourth book in the Australian Women Writers Challenge