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Land's Edge

by Tim Winton

Those of you familiar with Tim Winton’s last novel BREATH will know that his love for, and understanding of, the sea is legendary. In his memoir, LAND’S EDGE, he recounts a life spent on, in, and around the water.

Winton tells us Western Australians are coastal people, a race of “veranda” people with the desert behind and the ocean in front - always looking out. For him the sea is inescapable and seems to have it under his skin, in his nostrils - in his consciousness. He admits to having to get at least a glimpse of the ocean every day.

As a boy, Tim and his family took summer trips to his eccentric great aunt and uncle’s shack on the west coast. The shack contained, of all things, a library where, after swimming and snorkelling in the mornings, he retreated on the hot, windy afternoons to escape to The Coral Island, Swiss Family Robinson and the books of Robert Louis Stevenson. It was here he developed his duel loves. But it wasn’t all romance. At age 14 on a school excursion he tells us in gruesomely poetic language, how he was witness to the flensing of a whale: “The whale is enormous. Its long stiff lower jaw lies ajar and its eyes seem closed. The glossy black flanks are so vast you can barely see where the sharks have been, but already men are upon it, their flensing knives, like glinting hockey sticks, running deep into the blubber so that in only moments the pearly pink flesh begins to show”.

We are constantly reminded that the sea is to be feared and respected (his father’s advice: “never turn your back on the sea”) and he tells us of near misses: a dinghy upturned by a trio of massive waves that bounce him and his dad on the reef; as a teenager, dicing with death, diving under the water for just that bit too long, coming up feeling triumphant, immortal (that peculiarly adolescent condition). He tells us of swimming with a whale shark whose mouth “is as big as the bucket of a steam shovel”; of beachcombing, a melancholic pastime, collecting dead things; of sand dunes and their hidden dangers – always danger.

I read this compact, tactile little book in one sitting and was knocked out by the beauty of it. Read it and be prepared to want to book yourself on the next Qantas flight and whisk yourself away to Western Australia to experience life as a beachcombing, surf-riding, veranda-dweller.

Irene Haynes

Published by Picador – 113pp

Read our 2008 interview with Tim Winton.

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