The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton (2018)
Everyone has a Tim Winton story – or so it seems – especially those of us who have called ourselves West Australian at some point in our lives. I did my Honours Thesis on Winton and I have also interviewed him.
We had arranged for him to call me at home and we talked for an hour or so. He was utterly generous. Completely authentic. I’m a believer, what can I say? At some point in the interview we realized that his first born son and my daughter were of similar age and we decided that if she and he were not married by a certain age we would make the arrangement between them. True story – needless to say these days my grown daughter simply rolls her eyes.
As for me I have never stopped reading Winton, over and over again.
Because he does Australian men so well. Because he understands what it means to have an identity shaped by landscape. Because he is still processing the sacred in all its inexplicable horror and glory. And because he is rough and poetic and sincere.
The Shepherd’s Hut (2018) still haunts me. Here are men. Real men. West Australian men. But the landscape on which their stories unfold is as seminal to their formation as is the brutality they perpetrate to each other.
The protagonist comes from Monkton, West Australia – it’s every town you have ever driven through in certain parts of Australia.
Town like Monkton, one pub, roadhouse, rail silo and twelve streets, half of them empty, small enough everyone heard something and they all had a fucking opinion.
Jaxie Clackton, with his broken down name, quickly gets out of town and finds himself wandering the salt lake deserts in the state’s interior. It’s bleak country. Muscular. Disinterested in the few inhabitants attempting to survive. But despite this or maybe because of it the sacred is ever present in landscape.
I was coming in from the ridge country north with a field dressed euro on me back … and the world went quiet. It was like the birds and insects suddenly held their breath, the sheoaks left off their windy sighing and all I could hear was me own breath. And for a moment it was like some creature, some beast was about to come pushing and snorting through the scrub.
Winton’s representation of an encounter with something metaphysical, something greater than the sum of oneself, is rooted in the known and unknown. So it is out of this landscape that such characters emerge. Of course I delight in Jaxie because he, like all Winton’s characters, is liberated from middle class speak, in all its uptight niceties. This is where men speak like men out of a land that is utterly unapologetic.
Yet it is the death of the defrocked priest, Fintan MacGills, just outside his mad bothy that saves the lost unquiet soul of Jaxey. It is a slow horrifying, fascinating martyrdom; MacGills becomes a modern day Saint Bartholomew, broken, insightful and guileless. He is slowly flayed and then sliced up on the gambrel by the antagonists – two guys from the city whose contraband of drugs has been uncovered by young Jaxey – while all the while singing his own hymn in the cathedral of the Australian outback. A rendition of the Wild Colonial Boy.
This is what Winton does. He offers us truth in landscapes and in people who are bound, for better or worse, to each other.
Fintan was breathing when I got to the gambrel. And he was still alive when I let him down on the sticky earth. There was spit running down off his chin and his eyes looked half burst but I think he knew I was there. He felt me. He always knew what I was. He saw me coming before I knew I was even there. And now I saw him too.
Time Winton’s The Shepherd’s Hut is not to be missed!
Elizabeth’s first book, The Alchemy of Poetry, is available now! It would make the perfect gift for someone who is interested in the world of art and poetry and history and politics and love and death and war and the sublime – because the 160 poems selected in The Alchemy of Poetry succinctly and pitch perfectly offer all this and so much more!
Get your copy and send Elizabeth your review!
The Alchemy of Poetry by Elizabeth Guy
Published by Dreaming Big Publications
Paperback; 470 pages; ISBN-13 : 978-1947381414
Genre: Ancient, Classical and Contemporary Poetry; Education and Teaching; Non fiction