Shooting the Moon
Shooting the Moon opens with the narrator and his friend, Jack Mitchell, sitting around a camp and reminiscing about past experiences. Jack tells the story of how he and his friend, Tom, would attempt to run away from lodgings without paying for their stay – ‘I remember once, at a pub I was staying at, I had to leave without saying goodbye to the landlord.’
Indeed, it was on that night that Jack met Tom for the first time. He recalls how as he was attempting to sneak out of the window of the room, the ‘strange man’ awoke, and asked ‘for loan of the rope when you’re done with it.’ Jack was caught by the landlord whose lodgings they were trying to sneak out of while Tom successfully escaped. Expecting to be reprimanded for his actions, Jack was surprised when the landlord took pity on his and Tom’s circumstances and offered them free board and food for the next few days. Shortly after, Tom got in a fight with another man who had insulted the landlord.
Jack goes on to say that he and Tom travelled together for ten years, but that Tom is now dead.
This story is entirely centred around the conversation between two travellers. We get the sense that they have travelled from afar and are now taking the opportunity to rest and entertain each other with stories from their past. The moment in which their conversation occurs is suggested to be brief and fleeting, but at the same time Lawson subtly conveys the way in which such interactions punctuated the otherwise harsh restlessness of such men’s lives.
The passage of time is established in the text’s opening lines: ‘watched the big, red, smoky, rising moon out on the edge of the misty plain.’ This also serves to remind us of the smallness of the men amid the vastness of their world, which in turn reinforces the intimacy and indeed the emotional significance of this moment. The ‘tradition’ behind their conversation is reflected in ‘The moon reminded my mate, Jack Mitchell, of something’ – it is as though the moon serves as a constant prompt for reflection – one that is only visible after a long day, when the men finally sit to rest.
Again, the cyclical, or at least recurring nature of their interaction is suggested through the back and forth dialogue that makes up the final section of the story. While the final line ‘Dead – Give us the matches’ Sounds blunt and dramatic, throughout the story the matches are referenced to as a device that the men lean on in their interactions, and so we get the impression that the exchange of stories is to continue, into this night and the next.
That the story is dominated by dialogue is demonstrative of the importance of mateship, and indeed storytelling, to the bush experience.
"People always shoot the moon when there's no moon"
Bush culture, Swagman identity
"Or hung myself, maybe, if things got too bad."
Swagman identity, Death
"Big, red, smoky, rising moon out on the edge of the misty plain, and smoked"
Descriptive language, Visual Imagery
"Well, we chummed. His name was Tom-Tom-something, I forget the other name, but it doesn't matter."
Swagman culture, Mateship
"Have you got the matches?"
Swagman culture and identity, Mateship
"You needn't be in such a sweat to jump down a man's throat"
Idiom, Colloquialism, Australian slang
"If you had the swag you might pretend you were walking in your sleep, "I suggested, for the want of something funnier to say"
Swagman culture, Mateship