The dust jacket of the first edition of The Plains describes it as ‘a lament for an Australian literature that has never been written’. Thirty years later this strange, disquieting, curious little book continues to stand almost alone in the library of alternative Australian fiction. But make no mistake: this is no archaeological artefact. The Plains is a masterpiece, and, word for word, sentence for sentence, one of the best novels ever written in this country. Like all great allegories, its premise is simple. A filmmaker, researching a script to be called The Interior, journeys to the flat plains of the inland where in a remote town he spends his days in the pub trying to learn what he can about the so-called plainsmen and their peculiar way of life. Because it is peculiar. Like the many other petitioners who have made the journey (‘I cannot even say that at a certain hour I knew I had left Australia’) in the hope of finding a patron among the wealthy landowners there, our narrator must work hard to understand their culture – detailed, arcane and to the outsider utterly foreign – if he is to find favour with them.
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