Big River, Little Fish is the highly anticipated second novel from Brisbane-based author Belinda Jeffrey whose impressive debut novel, Brown Skin Blue, received overwhelming praise and recommendation from Australian reviewers when it was published in 2009, and has since been enjoyed by countless readers across the country.
As with Brown Skin Blue, Belinda Jeffrey captures the richness of the Australia landscape, its characters and its heritage in Big River, Little Fish. It's 1956 and the banks of the South Australian Murray River are about to burst in one of the state's worst-ever natural disasters.
Big River, Little Fish tells the story of 15-year-old Tom Downs, trapped between his way of reading the world and the world's way of seeing him. He lives in the town of Swan Reach with his foster parents, but is drawn every day to Old Mother Murray, on whose banks his mother died when bringing him into the world.
"It would have been sunset, the marbled limestone glowing orange in the last moments of light, and that's the stage Lil wanted to Tom's arrival; cockatoos screeching home to holes in the cliffs, the sounds of pelicans honking and diving for fish. Tom bursting forth from Lil's great inland sea to the river: Old Mother Murray slowing from the free-flowing current of day to her smooth mirror of fortune on dusk."
From the moment Tom was born backwards time has held him the wrong way round, like he's caught inside a fractured story. He's the odd boy with an inability to see words- and the world- they way others do unless his closest friend, Hannah, is by his side. Instead, Tom seeks out the company of the recluses who live by the River- Murray Black, Bum-crack and Mrs Cath among them.
"Tom wonders what it takes for a person to end up like that; feeling safer alone than with others. Depending only on yourself come hell or high water. Then again, perhaps he does understand."There's a big river coming and Tom feels like everything he loves and understands might be swept away and lost... But the thing about the Murray River rising, the thing about Tom's town flooding, and the thing that takes him by surprise is not what Old Mother Murray takes away, but who she brings back.
Inspired by the many holidays she spent as a teenager at her father's shack on the Murray River, Belinda Jeffrey captures for her readers a powerful sense of time and place, weaving layers of complex issues throughout.
Big River, Little Fish's richly drawn characters and the story of their lives set during the Murray River flood of 1956 will resonate with readers long after the river peaks, and water levels subside.
Big River, Little Fish Background
Belinda's father's shake is situation beside the Murray River at Big Bend, between the towns of Swan Reach and Nildottie. Big Bend is famous for its spectacular stretch of limestone cliffs that are said to be the longest and tallest stretch anywhere along the Murray. Not far from Big Bend is the historic Ngaut Ngaut Conservation Park, ancestral home of the Nganguraku people, and one of the most significant Aboriginal archaeological dig sites in Australia, showcasing vivid rock art and smoke stains.
Swan Reach, like all towns along the Murray River, was severely affected by the major flood in 1956. Said to be the biggest flood of two centuries, it wiped out many of the smaller towns along the Riverland, depriving farmers of their livelihood and homes. This flood is conserved to be South Australia's most severe natural disaster. In 2006, a travelling exhibition commemorated the flood, culminating in the book, Where Were You When the Waters Broke? Recollections of the 1956 Food. These stories and experiences also inspired Big River, Little. Fish.
Belinda Jeffrey lives in Brisbane with her husband and two boys. Her short story ;The Hallelujah Roof' was published in One Book, Many Brisbanes 2007 and she had a poem published in Penguin's What is Mother Love? Brown Skin Blue was published in June 2009.
Big River, Little Fish
Author: Belinda Jeffrey