By Melissa LUkashenko
The story begins with an Aboriginal woman being refused the sale of an axe, despite the store having plenty in stock. The narrative then goes back in time over thirty years. Jean, a young woman, arrives at a farm for her first day of work for May and Ted. When May gives birth to their son, Eric, Jean assists her with looking after the child.
As Eric grows, he becomes increasingly adventurous, and in an attempt to keep track of him, they attach a bell to him, but one day he goes missing. They never find him.
Some years later, a group of protestors arrive to protest the construction of a highway on the land. There is an accident and the camp is burnt down, and the farm is set alight too.
The next morning, Ted, May and Jean hear the clanging of the bell that Eric wore. They go outside to see it resting in an eagle’s nest. Jean runs to the store to buy an axe so that she can cut down the tree to find Eric’s remains.
Themes and techniques
Lucashenko’s text is primarily concerned with the unforgiving nature of the Australian outback, which is reinforced by her depiction of the racism experienced by Indigenous peoples. That racism is evident from the outset as the store attendant claims “Nothing good could come of any Abo girl holding an axe.”
The contrast between the human capacity for love, and the indifference of the landscape, is captured in “Eric was at home in the world, because the world had shown him only love and tenderness.” By this, Lucashenko foreshadows the brutality of growing up in such an environment, and the inevitable grief that afflicts those who live there.
It is through the circular narrative structure, as the story begins at the end before restarting, and ends at the point where Jean enters the store that Lucashenko affirms the hardship suffered by those who call the outback home, as despite their best intentions, they are trapped by the obstacles that exist within it.
‘Eric was at home in the world, because world had shown him only love and tenderness’
contrast, foreshadowing, circular narrative structure
roles of the human and natural world, impacts of environment, entrapment of characters in their current state
‘Nothing good could come of any Abo girl holding an axe’
persistence of racism