In this sensual, witty, and startlingly original first novel, Jean Finnegan
searches for her place in a tumultuous world wracked by the Great Depression and
the beginning of World War II. Carrie Tiffany captures the frailty and beauty of
the human condition and vividly evokes the hope and disappointment of an era.
Billowing dust and information, the government "Better Farming Train" slides through the wheat fields and small towns of Australia, bringing advice to the people living on the land. The train is staffed by irresistibly eccentric agricultural and domestic experts, from Sister Crock, the prim head of "women's subjects," to Mr. Ohno, the Japanese chicken specialist, to Robert Pettergree, a scientist with an unusual taste for soil. Amid the swaying cars full of cows, pigs, and wheat, a strange and swift seduction occurs between Robert and Jean. In an atmosphere of heady scientific idealism they settle in the impoverished Mallee farmland with the ambition of transforming the land through science.
In luminous prose, Tiffany writes about the challenges of farming, the character of small towns, the stark and terrifying beauty of the Australian landscape, and the fragile relationships among man, science, and nature. Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living is a passionate and heartbreaking novel from an astonishing new writer.
Chapter One: The Better-Farming Train Brings Science to the Man-on-the-Land
There are days of slow chugging through the wheat. I look out the window at the engine as it rounds a bend. Living on a train is like living inside the body of a snake. We are always leaning into the curves, always looking forwards, or backwards, never around. Here we are arriving at some tiny siding, just a few neat-edged buildings and their sharp shadows. Here we are again, a few days later, pulling away, all of us craning out the windows, gazing down the long canyon of railway line.
Sometimes a grateful farmer, or his son, will run a length beside us, waving his hat and grinning and calling out, "Three cheers for the Better-Farming Train," as if we are going to war. In those few days at Balliang East or Spargo Creek or Bendigo we make a place like somewhere else. Somewhere new.
The children say, "Look, a circus, look at the tent, look at the animals." ...
Throughout, Tiffany (an agricultural journalist living in Melbourne) explores the themes of man against nature, and the nature of man against man, but she also captures a big slice of social history, illustrating the incredible hardships of the time - the great depression, extensive years of drought, the memories of one war still present and the impending onset of another - stories that are at one level uniquely Australian but at another level, totally universal.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (581 words).
The Better Farming Train did exist just as described in Tiffany's book;
it steamed out of Melbourne for the first time in October 1924 and returned for
the last time in 1935, making about 38 tours in total. At each of its 10
stops between 500 to 2000 farmers and townspeople would attend the exhibits. You
can browse a range of pictures of the train and its destinations
here. In the top left you'll see the words "Browse Photo Collection"
in red. Click any of the numbers underneath to see photos (we thought
this a particularly fine image)
Robert and Jean set up home in the Mallee, a district in far north-western Victoria, south of the Murray River (the state of Victoria is in the south-east of Australia, see map). The ...
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