Friday, 18 December 2009

Review: Faraway Hill, H A Lindsay (1963)

Written by a 'bit of a character', the novel is a paean to the Howard battler. The author, Harold Arthur Lindsay, is a misogynistic xenophobe whose main interest in life is the getting of filthy lucre. But it's a good read.

Beginning in the early 1920s, just after the end of WWI, we meet Leslie Farrant and his new wife, Doris. They're on their way to the irrigation projects on the Murray River, where thousands of people are labouring to force the land to submit to industry, creating jobs for returned soldiers.

While life in the camps is hard, Leslie turns his hand to carpentry. When he's retrenched due to lack of funding, he moves to the city and finds employment in an auto factory. Leslie and Doris buy a house, but the life of the wage slave is not satisfying, and the young man decides to sell everything and invest in bee hives, a trade he'd dabbled in earlier in his life.

They leave the city and head for the hills, staking a claim on the property of an old, curmudgeonly cocky. They barely survive, and Leslie buys a new truck and starts doing courier work to supplement the income of the bees. When the old landowner dies, the couple - with young daughter Jean in tow - move elsewhere.

Here they meet Peter Menzies, a returned soldier and bee-keeper with a realistic outlook on life, who takes a shine to Les. He helps him set up his hives, and warns him away from the dreaded local rabble-rousers, the Hirosseks.

"Wait a bit -- there'll be a catch in it. You'll stike really bad trouble there. Down here we've got a crowd of toughs who give beekeepers a bad name. On the site I'll show you tomorrow you'll be only two miles from one of their apiaries -- and they'll be down on you in no time."
  "What'll they do?"
  "Play every damned trick you can think of -- and a few you've never heard of. If anyone puts bees within miles of them, they give him such a hot time he's glad to shift away. Knock holes in his honey tanks; tip his hives over; start a scrub fire to burn him out; put bent nails on the track he uses to puncture his tyres ... "
  "Good God," Leslie protested. "I'd have to clear out myself."
  "I haven't finished, Les. They've got most of the landowners here bluffed. If a man won't give them permission to put bees on his land, they take out a box of matches and remind him of how dry it's been lately. We dread bushfires down here. When one gets going properly in the scrub, you can't do much except pray for rain or a change of wind."
  Leslie sat staring at Menzies as the words sank in. You read about things like this in magazines or saw them in films; you didn't expect to run up against them in real life.
  "Only two groups of families are responsible," Menzies went on. "The Barodies and the Hirosseks. The Barodie brothers -- there's six of them -- are just plain crooks. Sneak thieves, sheep stealers and so on. The Hirosseks are the real wild men. Their father -- dead now, and a good job too -- was some sort of Russian. Big, nasty-looking brute with slanty eyes. Their mother -- still alive, worst luck! -- is a mixture of Gipsy and Negress. they raised the four lovely blokes you'll be up against."

Naturally, with Menzies' help, Les catches the Hirossek brothers in the act of poisoning his bees. Les works hard, brings on an enterprising young helper who finds a fruitful run of trees, and goes from strength to strength.

Soon, he's bought a property, Faraway Hill. With the Depression in full swing, the house and land sell cheaply. Nevertheless, it takes all of Les' money to buy in. But Peter Menzies has a trick up his sleeve, introducing a hardy form of clover he'd brought back as seed from the Middle East. The clover turns the poor land fertile, and Menzies and Les reap more gain when the seed sells.

Meanwhile, Bethea Musgrave joins the intrepid crew. Bethea grew up in Faraway Hill but her feckless brothers lost the property by frittering it away on expensive horses and trips to Melbourne. The enterprising woman had run a private school but the bad economic times forced her to shut down.

She asks if she can buy into the property. Doris, smitten by the old-money charm of the tall, competent Bethea, tells Les to take the offer. Musgrave is the keystone to the happiness of Les and Doris. Without the cachet of the ancient regime - the early pioneers who cleared the land of Aborigines and removed the 'scrub' of native forest - our frugal couple could not truly enjoy the fruits of their labours.

The novel ends with the advent of WWII, when Les is 38.

Lindsay's achievement is to write swiftly. But the boy's-own character of the novel flattens out any art, making each character two-dimensional and thin. He's got a world view and will do anything possible to promote it. It's a world view rooted in classical themes of pioneer ingenuity and thrift, married to a love of the Old Country and the greatness of the Anglo-Saxon people.

Some people would get angry at the book. I did, in places. But I found it interesting to read.


Anonymous said...

It sounds as if it needs a bit more than just a sequential narrative to bring it alive...and yet the way you describe it, it could almost be a plot Similar to The Tree of Man. I wonder what the market is, for a book like this?
Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers

Matthew da Silva said...

I haven't read The Tree of Man, but I certainly will now you've brought it to my attention in the context of this book.

james said...

"Harold Arthur Lindsay, is a misogynistic xenophobe whose main interest in life is the getting of filthy lucre".
What do you base this rather judgemental commentary upon?
Perhaps before writing snide comments about him you should have done some basic research.
Also HA Lindsay died in 1969 and the book was written much earlier when Howard was merely an obnoxious young fool so your references to the story being a "paean to the Howard Battler" is ridiculous.
HA Lindsay certainly did not need such hollow references in order to build his stories characters.
The "Howard Battler" and Howard's twisted view of society was a manifestation that occurred well after this authors death. In any case surely you understand the 'Howard Battler' was a myth manufactured to manipulate the emotions and voting tendencies of those feeble minded enough to be influenced by such jingoistic caricatures of Australian society.
In regard to calling the author a "misogynist" and a "xenophobe" I assume you are either a fool or have not bothered to inform yourself as he was neither of those things. In making that quite unqualified and uncalled for judgement you are simply being rude. You may rest assured though his contemporary detractors were at times quite vicious toward him so you are in company with many previous similarly self limited and uniformed commentators.
Times change though and most of what he was vigourously campaigning for is now considered normative, especially those relating to environmental and conservation issues.
The novel was partly set upon his own experiences as an apiarist prior to going to war as a survival trainer for the AIF and US forces. He ceased his apiarist activities due to his service during the war and did not return to it following his discharge. I recall no xenophobia only an enlightened mind that spent a lot of time dealing with fools and idiots who lacked either the vision or sufficient intelligence to understand what he was trying to do. Indeed in times when mixing with 'immigrants' was considered 'odd' by much of wider Australian society I recall this man happily mixing and engaging productively with people from many different corners of the world. Your "xenophobia" comment completely conflicts with the reality of his exploring and questioning mind. Aside from being a novelist he also wrote extensively on environmental and conservation issues and had an wide body of knowledge and experience with the culture and customs of the aboriginal people of australia. After returning from WWII he made his living as a writer using several pseudonyms as well as his own name. He was a visionary and a had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the world around him. He was not know for misogyny and the life he lived was the antithesis of the getting of "filthy lucre". Indeed he lived a quite humble life in Adelaide, South Australia in addition to his time in the SE of South Australia as an apiarist and his time working as a journalist for the ABC in Sydney. He was fond of growing vegetables and was a skilled carpenter. He excelled in research of his topics and subjects of interest. By example before he would write an authoritative article on something like aboriginal tool making craft he would set out to learn how to do it himself. He was disinclined to describe a technique without having mastered and fully understood that technique himself.
Maybe you could benefit from trying out the concept of informing research yourself as your personal commentary about the author is quite ludicrous.
Your comments are both empty headed and misinformed.
In regard to the commentary on the story told you are of course entitled to your own opinions.
However try to project your understanding of the story into the context of the times it was written in. The whole thing will then make a lot more sense and hopefully be a lot more entertaining and engaging to the reader.

Matthew da Silva said...

James - I know nothing about the man beyond what I read briefly in the ABD online. Nevertheless, my assessment of the man is based on my reading of his book. I stand by my assessment. If Lindsay was different from this, then he's been hypocritical in writing a book that casts him as a misogyinistic xenophobe only interested in making money.

james said...

Matt, it's a novel not a autobiography.
It is fiction and like many authors he has drawn from both his own life experiences and surroundings to assist in projecting a story and adding credibility to the fabric of that story. For example he has used the vehicle of bee keeping as it was something he had direct experience with. As for him being a misogynist xenophobe I think you are riding around on a horse with no head. Now the man is a hypocrite if he is not a misogynist and a xenophobe?
Giddyup n go pony and best to keep on taking the tablets unless your doctor actually tells you it's OK for you to stop:)

Unknown said...

Well said James!