Merv Rossiter lives in Lochiel, South Australia, at the tail end of the Murray River, with his daughter Em. His wife has taken her own life and his vineyard is not surviving without the water from the river that has been dammed up north.
He decides to take matters into his own hands and ‘borrows’ a boat, the Party Animal. Em tells him there’s no water for the boat and he replies they are going to take the boat to the water. They drive towing the boat, Merv intent on seeking revenge on all Queenslanders for stealing their water. That they are responsible for the losses of the locals’ farms, vines and orchards, whose stories Merv has told Em so often she can recite the lines.
Em who has dealt with so much already at such a young age “has her way of coping, her own way of hiding from mean life for a while. Same as he has whisky”.
Merv deals with the dam – “One man’s dangerous act of terrorism is another man’s inspired act of irrigation”, and the river floods south.
The Queensland Minister for the Environment, Bridget Wray, was in a portaloo when the water was released and was swept away in the current. Merv and Em rescue her from the top of the floating cubicle and take her onboard. She has her pragmatic, Queensland centric attitude to the river, she “bequeathed the bay of plenty upon the cotton empire”. Merv tells her “Queensland’s decided we’re going to be a desert so she can be an Eden”, recognising that’s a understandable thing to do, but he wants to show what’s been stolen.
As they float downstream the effects of the degradation on the landscape are still apparent. “Trees still grand in architecture but reduced in splendour. … In years to come when their architecture has fallen to ruin their grey columns will remind travelers of an ancient civilization past and gone and its many citizens dead and its majesty only available to archaeologists and fabulists”. But the flood has turned it into a “place of ephemeral abundance” of bird and wildlife that tourists are flocking to see.
Along the way they are cheered on by the people who live along the river and have relied on it. One brings them a roast dinner on a dinghy and Bridget tries to escape with them. They tell her to “Take a tour of what you done, girl.”
A woman holds up a sign saying “BIBLICAL”. Another meal is offered and they tell him “Here we call you King”.
Then they find Barwon, a young Aboriginal boy, who has “elected himself to the position of river man”, and invents a dance, normally taught by an elder to a chosen youth. But the dances are not remembered so Barwon invents a mixture of modern and traditional dance and performs it in the dry riverbed. The local boys attack him and ridicule him but when the river starts flowing he is “revealed as a wizard”. He too is rescued and joins the group on the Party Animal, believing he is an “undercover bigfella”, and that he can get them to do his bidding as well.
Back at Lochiel, Professor Clancy Sawyers, had returned to his home town having been removed from his position at the University because of his radical ideas about predicting the climate by reading the aurora in the sky. He has been employed by the local council as a consultant and sells his ideas to the desperate farmers who are looking for solutions to their problems.
Anson Cameron has created a humorous satire that deals with the serious issues of climate change and the use of our water resources. The characters are engaging and you cheer them along the way. It is beautifully balanced between informative and entertaining.