One of the Wattle Birds by Jessica Anderson


This is my third Jessica Anderson book; Tirra Lirra by the River and The Impersonators are the other two and I loved them both. She is successful in all three books at putting you in the location and sometimes awakens your sense of smell as well as prompting images of a setting. 

This one takes place over three days as the 19-year-old Cecily is continuing to process the death of her mother while she is preparing for exams. Her mother Chris had her out-of-wedlock (a strange phrase, as someone on Facebook recently pointed out) and Cecily never knew her father. Cecily did not know her mother was sick and was traveling in Europe with 5 friends when her mother died. Then she was doubly shocked and angry when her mother's will required her to be married in order to receive her small inheritance. She has nearly worn out her welcome with her mother's brother and his family with her need to revisit questions about her mother's reasons for excluding her. Her boyfriend Wil is loved by everyone; he is spending this time focusing on his preparations for exams. Cecily also works on her preparations, but finds much to distract her. 

One day she decides to go to the beach and debates between going to Bondi and Coogee (where it happens her father lives) and as if by accident, chooses Coogee. When it turns out the beach is closed, she makes her way to her father's house and they meet for the first time. He is the first one who can talk about Chris' decision in a way that is satisfying to her. It is a lovely not sentimental talk.

Like the other two Anderson novels I've read, this one is set in Sydney. Here's how she puts you in the location:

I get into one of the silver trains. I sit on the right hand side at first because on days like this I love the startlement of that first sight of the harbour stretching away and glittering all silent and silver and blue right out to the Heads. To stop myself from going into a fantasy about living in a beautiful house right on the edge of it, I remind myself of certain remarks of Mum's about my covetousness, and then of Gran, (who did actually live on the edge of it once) saying that her favorite Impossible Moment would be to enter Sydney Harbour on a thirties passenger liner in November 1787.

And later as she walks to her uncle's house:

The jacarandas and flame trees are in flower, and here and there mauve and red petals make intersecting pools on the footpath. The ashes and maples and so on are all in their absolutely unblemished early summer leaf, and high up you can hear that whispering of the tall eucalypts and see how the leaves flicker from green to silver, silver to green, always.

I should note that I read this because of a post on Whispering Gums. I think that is the first actual reference I've read to whispering eucalypts.

Jessica Anderson, One of the Wattle Birds, Penguin Books, 1994, 192 pages. Available at the UVa library and from third-party sellers listed on Amazon. 



  • It was such a pleasure to re-read the quotes from this book. What lovely images came into my head. I am fortunate to be able to read what you write about so many books. Thank you!


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