The hands by Stephen Orr

cover image

Wakefield Press, 2015. ISBN 9781743053430
(Age: 16+) On a remote cattle station in Northern South Australia, three generations of Wilkies pass their days according to the dictates of season, financial pressure and family expectation.
Grandfather Murray is an overbearing, self-centred man with a bullying streak who maintains a position of control over his adult son Trevor, his grandsons Aidan and Harry and his aged sister Fay. Fay holds an ignominious position in the family, having been dependent for decades upon Murray to provide a home for herself and her intellectually disabled adult son.
A split second event results in a road accident which has a monstrous impact upon the family. Further, the individuals affected have no realisation that this change will gather increasing momentum, placing greater tension on their already stressed relationships.
When Aidan sees an alternative future through an employment opportunity in Port Augusta, Murray's world view is shaken. The option challenges his concept of each family member having a blind devotion to the farm, stoically surviving increasing hardship, for no other reason than that it is unthinkable to do anything else. Meanwhile, Trevor is shown to be suffocating beneath monstrous responsibility whilst prevented from making decisions or implementing any changes by the manipulative Murray. The angst and torment he endures before realising that he too can follow his son's example is indicative of the very real (if entirely undeserved) perceptions of failure and shame felt by those driven off land handed down through the generations.
This is a realistic portrayal of family life and the events which befall this group are entirely authentic in the sense that they happen with similar measure and frequency to everyday people. Orr's depiction of rural life and farming practices is refreshing as he avoids romantic and lazy stereotypes, instead drawing recognisable people who express credible opinions with familiar dialogue.
The author's often sardonic depiction of certain situations and behaviours conveys a sense of his personal observations and a sympathy for graziers struggling to make a living under almost impossible conditions. The frailties and flaws within the characters are all shown to be rooted in their circumstances and incapacity to escape a rotten situation. Sadly their lot might have been so much more successful and fulfilling if less misfortune and a little more rain had come their way.
Rob Welsh