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August 04 , 2007

Up From The Bottom

A Novel


No one would ever regard the insignificant muddy watercourse that wanders through the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, as iconic, or mystical. There is nothing of the Ganges, or the Thames or the Mississippi about the Yarra. Most people barely notice it's there and those who do tend to disparage its effluence. Yet, for the two men who have spent most of their lives keeping the Yarra channels flowing, there is a kind of divine power there. From a family tradition of riverboat men, identical twins, Jay and Vic Walker, see their almost religious respect for the river confirmed, when their dredge brings up a small fortune, the river's gift. The gift however is conditional, it comes with responsibility, one that consumes them and changes their otherwise humdrum simple lives indelibly.

Birthdays mark the significant steps in the Walkers' story, and on his 50th birthday, looking back, Jay attempts to make sense of his journey. From the temporary sanctuary of his hospital room, gently impelled forward by his psychiatrist, he records the events as a birthday present for the eight year old boy in his family. Steadily unravelling the Walker history into a tape recorder, he narrates their trajectory, from the dredge's revelation, purchasing their identical Honda Gold Wings and then encountering the homeless Mo Heany on her beaten-up Yamaha. When they invite her to become their housekeeper, their lifestyle changes irrevocably. At the same time, their dredging days give way to a very different kind of craft, all fuelled by the secret stash under the barbecue in their backyard. However, as Jay comes to understand ever more deeply, the river has its price and ultimately the price must be paid. What is dredged up must be accounted for.

Who is responsible for the mysterious and deadly explosion on the tourist boat? Who in fact is the real father of the child? The tape recording narrator's portrayal of his own world may be rather different from how the world really is.

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