Golden Fleece

W.R. Mead

  • Sheep and Man by M.L. Ryder
    Duckworth, 846 pp, £55.00, November 1983, ISBN 0 7156 1655 2
  • Outback by Thomas Keneally
    Hodder, 256 pp, £12.95, October 1983, ISBN 0 340 33669 2

There is little in common between these two books save that they are both written by enthusiasts, and that they both extend the reader’s vocabulary. One book is by a man of the West Riding with an obsession for sheep; the other by an author who is making a distinctive contribution to Australian literature and who has a passion for the outback. Sheep and Man employs the full range of zoological terminology and gathers together the arcane languages of the shepherd’s calling from the four corners of the world. It will enable us to add ‘slynkette’, ‘kebb’, ‘riggon’ and ‘jerk’ (or ‘gimmer’) to our terms of affection or abuse, to display our knowledge of wool weights by reference to cloves, tods and weys, or (if we encounter an ear-clipper) to understand the difference between a fidder, a hingin’ widder, a stoo or a gongbit. As the anecdotes and biographical sketches of Outback attest, a glossary of powerful and pungent expressions is also to be found in the thirsty, bull-punching Northern Territory. It is the language of a land such as God gave Cain – or Mina Minahan, to select one of the characters that Thomas Keneally pulls in from Australia’s badlands and sets amid the colourful photographs of Mark Lang and Gary Hansen.

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