Feature image of Panboola Wetlands from MANUSCRAPPED
THE WATERFOWL ARE DRUNK! by Kate Liston-Mills
How I came to be reading The Waterfowl Are Drunk! is a long story. In short, I received an advance unedited proof for reviewing purposes. The long answer starts eighteen years ago when KATE LISTON-MILLS and I walked into the same English class.
From the first page it’s clear why Liston-Mills was awarded WRITER OF THE MONTH from the South Coast Writers Centre for her poetry. The Waterfowl Are Drunk! is a poetic treasure consisting of seven short interwoven stories.
The opening story Bound sets a quiet, chilling tone as a fox stalks a nest of hatching swans. Immediately the reader is initiated into what will become recurring motifs in the work; loss, the bonds of family and the lasting effect absence can have on a community.
Hey Porter, Hey Porter deals with the difficult issue of a child’s diagnosis with Down syndrome. Parents, Edward and Hazel, sit with their three year old Lottie and listen as the doctor explains the term.
After a few moments of stares and throat clearing, Hazel shakes her head and stands, “Rubbish! Lottie’s normal… just a slow learner, that’s all.” Her eyes are glazed. Ed tries to squeeze his wife’s hand, but shaking, she lugs Lottie out of the room, leaving him with the mongrel doctor.
How does a diagnosis change the child? While Edward is driven to find answers, for Hazel it changes nothing. Disability or issues of difference is another recurring theme in The Waterfowl are Drunk!
Time is marked by historical events; war, cricket, technology and changing attitudes of disability.
The title story, The Waterfowl are Drunk! is a lot less about drunken waterfowl than you would think. Instead, it follows a household through the days after Edwards death. The community of Pambula mourn and connect over the death of Edward.
You can see women, shawls around their heads to cover their mid-perm rollers, ducking over to the neighbours’ place, and men stopping their utes in the street and winding down the windows. The news is tinkering like a mechanic, slowly tapping on each head. It’s tapping into the nuts and cogs of the heart of the machine, tapping each greasy component, until the parts all work together.
A surreal yet familiar visitor comes to stay. Always there is impeccable hospitality, understanding of how we should treat each other, and Lottie preparing the tea.
Tea has to be mentioned when discussing this work. The ritual and repetition of making and drinking tea builds upon itself to become a powerful image by the conclusion of the work. In Shiny Lino and the Whistling Kettle tea becomes the bridge between difference, the ‘twine’ that connects the living with the ghosts.
Anyone who has ever caught a rural bus to school will love reading I Don’t Even Like Scotch Finger Biscuits. Liston-Mills is spot on in her depiction of Georgia, a high school student forced to spend the afternoon with her Nan.
By now, as a reader, I’m familiar with the story telling. I can sense something hanging over these characters. I have been taught, through the previous stories, that death will come with surprising banality. As a reader I’m unable to stop Hazel from missing those small moments with her Nan. There is tension in the minutia of their exchange. Georgia’s final act of rudeness is almost heart breaking.
Kate Liston-Mills has captured the intimacy and isolation of rural Australian life. Anyone who has lived in a small town will understand just how much action can take place at a town’s only round about.
Kate Liston-Mills has created a work where the reader is never too far from the characters they have come to know. These stories are finely curated within the book. The reader is never jerked about through location or place.
Many are horrified to learn that I’m not a huge fan of short fiction. Perhaps it is my personality type* but when it comes to forming relationships with characters, I’m all about the long game. Maybe it’s greediness on my part, but I always want more. This collection does just that.
The Waterfowl are Drunk! is unlike anything I have read before, heartbreakingly funny, vivid and moving. In Pambula, people matter and hospitality is expressed in tea and bickies.
Spineless Wonders is an indie publishing company devoted to short, quality fiction produced by Australian writers. The Waterfowl Are Drunk! is part of a larger collection of fiction, SLINKIES, being published by Spineless Wonders. Slinkies features emerging Australian writers under 30.
Kate Liston-Mills lives in Pambula, NSW, in her Nan’s 1880 cottage. She works as a journalist, writer, poet and teacher. Kate is a teaching graduate of the Australian Catholic University and a writing graduate of the University of Wollongong. Her works have been published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Daily Telegraph, Writer’s Edit, Prowlings, Tertangala, TIDE and the South Coast Writers Centre.
* I am not surprised to learn that INFJ’s are avid readers of fiction and non fiction alike. In articles online they rarely recommend short fiction to each other.
THE WATERFOWL ARE DRUNK! will be launched as part of NATIONAL YOUNG WRITERS MONTH in Wollongong on June 10 at JANE’S CAFE. The event kicks off at 6.30pm and will also include ‘Capital Misfits’ by Sydney-based writer JYL Koh and ‘I Cast a Spell On You’ by Brisbane-based Sam George-Allen.