Belinda Jeffrey: Big River Little Fish

'Swimming with your mouth'

Thuy On


Big River Little Fish
by Belinda Jeffrey
University of Queensland Press
$19.95 pb, 268 pp, 9780702238505


The birth of Tom Downs on the banks of the Murray River in South Australia tragically coincided with the death of his mother. His premature arrival – in the breech position – subsequently informs how his life is played out. Now fifteen and illiterate, he is considered by some in the rural community of Swan Reach as rather backward (hence his nickname, ‘Mot’). But Tom is adept with his hands, and his ability is extensive when it comes to fixing any piece of machinery. He is a sensitive, imaginative boy, irrepressibly drawn to the rugged beauty of his birthplace. Though raised by caring foster parents, Tom still feels an outsider kinship with the desperate recluses who live on the river’s edge. Familial relations, racial discrimination and adolescent angst are all explored in Big River Little Fish,and a surprising twist at the end further draws out the complexities of Tom’s character.

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Published in November 2010 no. 326
Thuy On

Thuy On

Thuy On is a Melbourne-based reviewer, copywriter, and manuscript assessor. She has contributed freelance reviews to publications including Australian Book Review, The Age, The Australian, Bookseller & Publisher, and The Big Issue. She has been a bookworm since she first began reading and is now rediscovering the beauty of picture books with her three-year-old daughter.

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