It’s probably twenty years since I first read The Shiralee which was released in the 1950s but the narrative still captivates and it’s been a joy to re-read. A shiralee is a swag, a burden, and in D’Arcy Niland’s novel, Macauley’s is Buster, his four year old daughter. In the novel Macauley takes the child to spite his wife after returning home to find her in bed with another man. Unfortunately for Macauley his expectation of his wife coming after him to beg for the child’s return doesn’t happen. And so months later, Macauley, living a drifter’s life with his daughter in tow finds himself begrudgingly getting used to the child’s company.

shiMacauley tramps through the outback towns of New South Wales, and Buster follows, loyal and resilient, although her father forces her to walk when she’s exhausted and has no time for her childish antics or complaints. In fact Macauley is harsh to the extreme, characteristics emphasized by his rough bush life and a barely suppressed temper.

During the course of the narrative Macauley searches for work, catches up with old friends and gets into a number of fights, some within his daughter’s presence. But at heart Macauley is an honest man, traits which are played out against the bush characters and places he interacts with. Macauley’s growing affection for his daughter is tested at the novel’s end, but the rough diamond that for me is one of my favourite characters in rural literature doesn’t disappoint. Love, loyalty and survival are powerful themes.

Australian slang is liberally employed and the lesser characters in the novel are well-rounded and seriously flawed. This is the bush in all its beauty and roughness. The bush that I know through my own family’s tenure on the land. The simple arc of the narrative combines with a sense of time and place which you rarely see in works of rural literature today. The Shiralee is simply a wonderful bush yarn.