The Call of the Reed Warbler is a brutally honest book – an account of personal redemption following generations of sin. The only comparable work I know of is Rian Malan’s great saga of South Africa, My Traitor’s Heart (1990) – revolutionary, threatening, and the traducing efforts of an insider. Malan, a relative of the architect of apartheid, South African Prime Minister Daniel Malan, was an anti-apartheid revolutionary. My Traitor’s Heart cost him his family, society, almost his life. The Call of the Reed Warbler, one intuits, has cost Monaro farmer and author Charles Massy almost as dearly.
These may seem to be large claims for a book which, at one level, consists mostly of case studies of Australian farmers struggling for economic and environmental sustainability. But the reality behind the work is revealed through Google Earth: if you search for the properties mentioned in the book, you will find oases of green surrounded by that parched devastation we have come to think of as the normal state of Australian agricultural lands. The stark comparison begs the question: why do we continue with morally bankrupt and dangerous ways of doing things, when better alternatives stare us in the face?