by Barbara Carey
“ Scrublands - A Novel ”
The story is set in Australia and the author, Chris Hammer, is an Australian journalist, and now a novelist.
During the Millennium drought he travelled extensively through the Australian Outback and in the area of the Murray-Murrumbidgee rivers - which is in the lower south eastern part of Australia. After this trip he wrote two non fiction novels, and then this one which is total fiction. But it is a story that could have happened.
Let me first give you a short explanation of the title, Scrublands: Scrub is a poor quality timber forest - found growing on rocky, sandy, infertile lands. A buyer looking for property might find a farm description saying it has a lot of scrub country or scrub land or simply scrub. Such property is suitable only for grazing a few cattle that remain skinny, that get rounded up (collected together) once a year and then taken to more fertile pastures to be fattened up. People don’t usually live on such land but they might have a shack where they can stay overnight.
The author’s description of the heat, dust, air and the little town is very accurate - in fact it took me back to my childhood. Most of the Australian population lives within a 300 km fringe bordering the country’s shores and have had little contact with what is known as the Australian Outback.
The story starts off with the local priest standing on the church steps and shooting 5 local men for what appears to have been no reason at all. One year later the editor of a popular newspaper sends a traumatized journalist to write about how the town has coped with the aftermath of the shooting. The journalist is himself suffering post-war syndrome as, during his escape from a war zone in Afghanistan,
he had been locked in the boot of a car where his driver had hidden him for 2 days and 2 nights. On his arrival in the town the journalist starts interviewing the locals, and soon becomes involved in their lives and realizes there are many questions that have remained unanswered and many secrets left untold. It is not the open and shut case it appears to be. Other city reporters pick up on “our man’s” reports and flock to the town, pushing him aside and calling him a “has been”. However he has become obsessed with seeking the truth and risks his career to find it.
The story is well written, the descriptions excellent and the plot, and the plots within plots, very intriguing. And you, the reader, will soon find yourself in the reporter’s shoes asking why, why,why.
And at the end all is revealed.