Gemmy Fairley doesn't belong anywhere. Tossed from the sea upon a wild Australian beach, the boy is a curiosity to the indigenous natives who discover and allow him to tag along, learning their language and customs. A strange yearning assails his dreams, images, memories of a beginning, brutal people and things barely glimpsed.
From a truly ignominious beginning, Gemmy schools himself to adapt to circumstances, intuiting acceptable behavior as necessary for survival. Throughout his wanderings with the Aborigines, he assumes the coloring of his surroundings, much as they do. But another voice, a distant curiosity calls Gemmy ever closer to the poverty-riddled settlers who view him as a threat. There is a life-defining moment for two young people, Lachlan and Janet, when they first see Gemmy, perched precariously atop a fence, held for a moment in time that marks their consciousness indelibly. Drawing Gemmy into their world, Lachlan is his mentor, Janet his friend, both protective of his innocence, forever fascinated with that first seminal glimpse.
In such an intimate and hardscrabble community, where human connections insure survival, Gemmy is a freak, too strange to be perceived as non-threatening, white, but with the outward visage of a black. Fearful and superstitious, they draw away, repulsed. Eventually, Gemmy finds himself moving back into the bush, unable to manage the demands of such a borderline civilization. Years later, as adults, Lachlan and Janet deeply reconnect over their youthful remembrance, that slender thread that attached them to Gemmy for that short time in their young lives.
The writing is powerful and beautifully rendered, with a sense of awareness that pulses with life. Immersed in nature's stark reality, words become feelings, thoughts merge with the heartbeat of humanity at its most vulnerable.