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The Great Arch

Allen & Unwin, 2008
RRP $29.95

The Great Arch is a fictional novel, inspired by real people and real events, and follows one man’s obsession with the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge which he views from the verandah of his rectory in North Sydney.

Reverend Ralph Andersen Cage the parish priest of Lavender Bay, photographer of the bridge, husband and father, records the engineering progress, the arrival of steel, cement blocks, girders and rivets in infinite detail.

His fascination with the wonder of it all fills his sermons and the parish paper but he fails to see the plight of those dispossessed families whose houses had to make way for the construction, and those who lost loved ones who fell to their death from great heights.

Ralph himself loses a son in the war and his supportive and long-suffering wife Stella predeceases him. This priest’s eccentricity was finally his undoing.

The story covers two generations, two world wars and the Great Depression, giving significant insight into the early twentieth century history in Australia.

The author has an amazing ability to deliver poetic form to her writing as she brings humour to the ordinary lives of her characters.

Her innate ability to express the deep thoughts, reflections and emotions of this diverse group of Australians living in this period is remarkable.

The publication of this book has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

The Great Arch is attractively presented in a hard cardboard wrap-around cover and is 341 pages in length.

This is an unusual book, a gentle read which could be appreciated by a wide audience.

Reviewed by Rev Barbara Bailey.