Can a Way of Life Be a Business?
Nothing is static, nothing as simple as it seems, observes the clergyman visiting the farming couple. “I feel there’s a bit of violence underlying a lot of things in these parts … People are suffering from uncertainty. You’ve got to be ready, armed for it.”
Karragu is about how people live with this uncertainty and how, despite hits from the weather, markets and the economy, they push on because of their love for the land. It is about their weaknesses and strengths, their failures and achievements, and it conveys a deep sense of what it is like to be a farmer.
Don and Rebecca Marr’s farm lies in the wheat belt of Western Australia. The novel follows them through the seasons, as they scrape through a series of crises that threaten the loss of their farm. It is also a portrait of a rural community of farmers and townspeople. There are about 30 characters in the book, but Sandison draws them well, so I found it easy to keep track of them, especially the dozen or so in the Marrs’ circle – friends, neighbours, employees, business owners and the Rev Bill Evans, whose journey from naivety to understanding is chronicled. But it is Rebecca and Don who are most vividly realised, and I enjoyed their company.
There is a tired old assertion that farming must be seen as a business rather than a way of life, most recently brought out by union leader Paul Howes when he said that the day of ma and pa farming in Australia needs to end. Howes seems unaware of what it is that makes Australian farming so successful. Farmers have been forced to become efficient by the progressive removal of government subsidies and protection over the past century. What has enabled their success is their love of the land – they care for their farms. A farm can be a successful business precisely because the farmer considers it a way of life, and gives it his or her all.
In Karragu, the Marrs’ farm is both business and way of life and, while there is tension between these two visions, in the end they reinforce each other. Perhaps Paul Howes should read it.
My only reservation about the book is that a work of this quality deserved a more thorough edit, both structural and line-by-line. This would have resolved some continuity issues and corrected quite a few typos. Karragu was published by a highly-respected small press that specialised in poetry and whose founder helped many authors. Perhaps the press did not have the resources to edit a full length novel, given that editing is the most costly part of publishing such a book.
Karragu is recommended for readers who love country life and those who want to know what it’s like. It is listed for sale on the Post Pressed website, but the press is no long publishing, so I’ve asked the caretakers of the website if they still have copies. I will update this post with any further information.
Update: The remaining stock from Post Pressed is being sold by Seib Books Eumundi, who advise that they have no more copies of Karragu. State libraries and some online book retailers may have copies.