REVIEW: AS THE RIVER RUNS BY STEPHEN SCOURFIELD

AS THE RIVER RUNS

Author: Stephen Scourfield
UWA Publishing RRP $26.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

As the River RunsEnvironmental politics underscore poetic writing in Stephen Scourfield’s novel, As The River Runs. It’s the first work of fiction I’ve read by The West Australian’s travel editor and it left me in no doubt that Scourfield has a real gift for capturing the essence of a place, far beyond the journalistic recording of the travel lift-out. His obvious love for the Kimberley region of north-western Australia translated to an emotionally-charged novel that both surprised and captivated me.

The novel takes root in the harsh reality that is Perth’s water situation owing to declining rainfall. As Perth and surrounds becomes drier, solutions are needed to maintain water supply for a growing population. Unable to rely on rainfall, Western Australia has turned to desalination, groundwater replenishment and other water recycling, as well as water restrictions during the winter months. Over the years, several ambitious proposals have been put forward to pipe water from the monsoonal north, notably the Ord River, and it is on this basis that  As The River Runs is built (though the name of the river has been changed to the Duncan River). Government Minister Michael Mooney sends his Chief of Staff, Kate Kennedy, and political fixer, Jack Cole on a “fact-finding” trip up north. Under the guise of selling a sustainable power plan to the electorate, their real mission is to assess the lie of the land, and gauge opposition and support for Mooney’s secret plan.

‘…on the water issue,’ she continues, more quietly, ‘as I understand it, it’s just about getting a measure of the locals …’

‘And doing that quietly,’ he adds.

Respected by both the mining industry and Aboriginal elder Vincent Yimi, and sold on the cover story, ex-greenie Dylan Ward facilitates Kate and Jack’s fact-finding trip through the wild and beautiful river country. For Kate, the trip is an eye-opener in more ways than one and she begins to question herself, her job, and her employer’s plan. She wants to come clean, but how will Dylan react when he finds out he’s been compromised?

As The River Runs weaves politics, adventure, romance and strongly-drawn characters into a clever and entertaining page turner. Yet, it’s much more than a page turner. It’s an evocative tribute to country that is imprinted on Scourfield’s soul, written with heart as much as mind; it’s also passionate and challenging advocacy for the environment and indigenous culture of this region. It’s writing that makes readers want to travel to this magnificent piece of country as much as it draws out other feelings, depending on the reader’s political and environmental leanings. For me, I felt anger at the underhanded political machinations, protectiveness for a region I am yet to visit, and hope that this state will continue to explore other options for solving its water problems. Scourfield’s words flowed off the page and into my heart and, most of all, left me wanting to interpret the country for myself.

Check out the book trailer for a glimpse of the countryside:

Available from good bookstores and UWA Publishing. My copy was courtesy of UWA Publishing.

Bookish treat: Mangoes. I don’t know why.