Western Australia, near-secession state, the far end of Australia visited by fewer tourists than anywhere else, yet plundered, mined, grazed almost out of existence and wanting to separate from the rest of the country. Not sure how that would work, but anyway so far the attempt has failed.
Where was Tom Keely when you needed him? The Northern coast of Western Australia was pristine wilderness until a few years ago; Perth, the principal city was a sleepy duvet of bungalows with a spanking Central Business District of gleaming skyscrapers where a few people made a great deal of money. Then the mining began. Perth came of age and mushroomed upwards, blocks of residential flats sprouted along the Swan River, and every piece of coast or river bank got the make-over – either gated communities of grand houses and condos.
So why am I talking about this? Tim Winton‘s new novel Eerie is the tale of a disgraced environmental protester, holed up in a high-rise in Fremantle. Depressed, possibly psychotic he loafs around in his flat, mumbling and struggling against himself. Then he meets a blast from his past in the form of a young woman with a small boy, Kai.
This causes Tom Keely untold anxiety and in the end considerable grief. And even though it seems that at least one of his failed campaigns has suddenly borne fruit and he appears to be vindicated, he is not redeemed.
Western Australia has been plundered for its gold, its coal and every other mineral known to science; its native bush has been grubbed up to create “meadows” for cattle and horses which has caused a leprosy of salt lakes to spread across vast areas, many of them growing at the rate of a metre a year; boring for water to irrigate suburbia where homesick Europeans try to create lush gardens with plants wholly unsuited to the searing heat, in their eagerness to grow roses and clematis they have failed to notice the beauty of the bottle brush tree, the proteas and the wattles – all of which thrive, has depleted the natural aquifers to a dangerous degree. A veritable rape of a once exquisitely beautiful piece of wilderness. No wonder Tom Keely is depressed.
Back to the Man Booker next, the David Mitchell is sitting waiting for me to open the first page…