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Ghost River is a novel of camaraderie and escape, of pleasure and brute survival, played out by the banks and in the waters of the ancient river that runs through Melbourne. Tony Birch tells a bittersweet story of men, women, boys and girls whose lives are as little known to the regular citizenry of that city as the byways and nature of the river itself. Set in the late 1960s against the bends of the Yarra in its urban reaches, Ghost River presents a world poignantly remembered and vividly drawn.
Birch’s prose is energetic, uncluttered and convincing. His appreciation and ear for spoken language, and his clear eye for the behaviour and values of the outsider and the dispossessed, are exemplary. Ghost River tells of Mediterranean migrants and older Irish-Australians, of backyard pigeon-keeping and teenagers smoking in inner-city laneways beyond their parents’ view, of down-and-outers writing their own rules beneath rusting railway bridges, and of the transmission of knowledge. As the change that others call progress arrives and threatens this much-loved world, we nevertheless see that friendship and connection are abiding and courage our most necessary tool.