‘What’s your favourite way water can be?’, eight-year-old Em asks her father Merv. Em likes waterfalls, but Merv prefers floods. A flood, he explains to Em, ‘is a type of flat waterfall you can ride on. But it’s serious too. It knows where it’s going and it’s determined to get there.’
Mervyn Rossiter, the exasperating, endearing larrikin hero of writer Anson Cameron’s fifth novel, The Last Pulse, delivers this lesson just before dynamiting a dam at Karoo Station in south-east Queensland. In doing so, he unleashes a cleansing flood of retribution to make the water thieves from Queensland understand the pain their irrigation policy is causing those who live downstream. This includes men like Merv, a wine-grower in South Australia, whose livelihood disappeared when the water stopped flowing. Aboard a stolen party punt named The Party Animal, Em and Merv ride the water back home. In the course of their journey, they pick up a few passengers: Bridget Wray, the agitated Queensland minister for the environment, who found herself inelegantly stranded on a portaloo when the dam blew, and Barwon, an indigenous teenager from central New South Wales, who believes that he sang the water back into the dry riverbed.