Headline Publishing Group, London, 2007, 437 pages.
Set in the earlier days of the Australian outback The feather and the Stone is a delightful novel with rich insight into the lifestyles of the pioneer settlers. But more than that, it is an enthralling story built around the varied lives and the diverse characters who came from England and Ireland to this huge and harsh continent.
Vitality is built into every page by a mixture of romance and ambition, jealously and prejudice, hardship and the prospect of wealth.
The central character is an English girl who is dumped on the West Australian coast by a cyclone, after the wreck of her sailing ship and the loss of her parents. She and another survivor are assisted by some local Aborigines and a settler family and the story just gets more and more intriguing from there.
Patricia Shaw is an accomplished writer, the author of a number of books, skilled in the use of language and adaptable in its application to the rough life of the early settlers. The new world of squatters, gold miners, cattle barons and new settlements like Perth and Darwin, is presented as a man’s world where women have to fight for their place.
Although Shaw writes with obvious feminine sensitivity we can still experience the dangers and the ugliness where it surfaces.
We can understand the different kinds of Aboriginal responses to the settlers who were sometimes arrogant, greedy and lacking in understanding, but sometimes driven by fear. Prejudices easily surfaced towards the indigenous people and to the Chinese gold diggers as well, but there were exceptions.
However, it is by the romantic flow of the central plot that the whole diversity is held together and we are led to the very end when the outcomes are made clear. For an insight into late nineteenth century Australian development and inter-cultural relationships it is an experiential journey.
Reviewed by Rev Bill Adams