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Bush Brother tales

28 March 2013


"READING maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man."

This saying of Francis Bacon, quoted near the beginning of chapter 11 of As the Sparks Fly Upwards (Sid Harta Publishers, £17.95; 978-1-921829-35-2), typifies the book, and says much about its author, Richard Stamp.

The stories contain the kind of thoughtfulness that comes only from reading, reflecting, and bouncing ideas off others. The distilled wisdom is then brought to life in the interaction of the characters with each other and with their surroundings.

The book is about a young priest and his ministry as a Bush Brother in the Australian outback. It contains 16 stories.

Some are very funny, like the one in which two charming old ladies announced that they were whores before they were married. Some are moving, like the account of young Glen's death and funeral. All of the stories are thoughtful and sensitive.

They are very nicely written with an eye for detail that verges on the poetic: "Square weatherboard houses pulled tin roofed verandas over their eyes and tried not to blink into the sunlight. . ." The characters are drawn with masterly understatement and economy. Most of them pop up in more than one story: we are looking at and listening to the complications of a small social system in which the characters move in and out of their comfort zones. By the end of the book, you feel you know most of them - and like them.

A note at the beginning of the book declares that the places mentioned and all of the characters are entirely fictional. We are also told, however, that most of the incidents in the book "do have some basis in fact". Let the reader understand!

It is a great read and recommended highly, especially to those in ministry or preparing for it, and more especially for those of the clergy who are prone to "foot and mouth disease" (see page 39).

Jonathan Ewer

Fr Ewer is a member of the Society of the Sacred Mission and a resident member of the Well Community in Milton Keynes.

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