'Swimming with your mouth'
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.