On my first reading attempt
I wasn’t ready for this book. I wanted to enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Catherine Jinks other books but it didn’t work for me right from the start. The setting was vivid but the raw, brutish behaviour and sheer masculinity of the story overwhelmed me. Does that make me a sexist, a bigot, a wimp when it comes to macho bravado? I don’t know. I turned the pages with trepidation, not interest. Maybe the colonial frontier loneliness affected me and I didn’t want to go on.
On my second reading
the story felt less crushing. I concentrated on young English convict Tom Clay, a former poacher transported in chains to Australia, and now a shepherd. I willed him to be okay, to learn and survive intact. His country assignment in New South Wales works well, he didn’t steal from landowner Mr Barrett so he was never flogged and he works hard. Through his eyes, I saw the strangeness of a harsh new land, the vast differences, and the cruel pitiless men he is forced to live and work with guarding sheep against theft and wild dogs.
Tom has a jaundiced eye
when it comes to things like Australian native wildlife and his comment on first seeing kangaroos is less than flattering. I was disappointed with the header on the bookcover which reads “The wolf is not the only hunter”. There are no wolves in Australia, there are dingoes (wild dogs) and that should have been apparent.
The conditions are harsh
and Tom’s fight for life against his arch nemesis Dan Carver is harsher still. These chapters are tightly written. The knock down drag ‘em out battles are horrific, the ghastly metal trap, the shootings, the human and animal deaths… but Tom dearly loves his sheep dogs.
I am not a fan
of an undefined location nor overused nonlinear narrative. Tom’s past comes out in this way. Flashback to eight year old Tom at his mother’s funeral, his former life almost as bad as his current one. He learns “No matter what a convict’s situation might be, he’ll never persuade a trooper that he’s telling the truth.” Flashback to when Tom first met convict Rowdy Cavanagh, a con man who joked, laughed and teased his way to success until he was caught “A single misstep and it ruined me life.”
The age rating
for this tense, chilling, thrilling story eludes me, but it is a tale I did not fully enjoy. I do respect it wholeheartedly for the screenplay fear and fascination it instilled in me regarding the rough and thoroughly inhumane life early convicts were forced to endure.
Tom’s situation could lead to listening and learning from the Indigenous custodians of this ancient land, and perhaps encourage a new phase in his life.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Catherine Jinks ‘Shepherd’ interview on Paperchain Bookstore blog.
Catherine Jinks (Australia b.1963) is a four-time winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year award, and has also won a Victorian Premier’s Literature Award, the Adelaide Festival Award for Literature, the Ena Noel Award for Children’s Literature and an Aurealis Award for Science Fiction. In 2001 she was presented with a Centenary Medal for her contribution to Australian Children’s Literature.
Catherine Jinks, author of over thirty books for children and adults, including the award-winning Pagan Chronicles series, was born in Brisbane and grew up in Sydney where she studied medieval history at the University of Sydney.
She became a writer because she loves reading, as well as history, films and television. Catherine gets ideas for her novels from everywhere, particularly good science fiction films. She lives in the Blue Mountains NSW with her Canadian husband and daughter Hannah.