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ten: the winds of heaven by judith clarke

The Winds of Heaven by Judith Clarke,
review published by Allen and Unwin Teachers Reviews, 2009 online

The sound you hear as you reach the end of this story is the wrenching tear of your heart breaking. The Winds of Heaven is a story filled with imagery which the reader can smell, taste, hear, see and feel. We hear the tinny sound of Johnny Cash on the radio, and feel the cool linen cloth as Clementine does.
The rural setting at Lake Conapaira in the 1950s, with frustrated teenage sexuality and poorly
treated Aboriginal Australians, is reminiscent of Julia Lawrinson’s Bye Beautiful. Both novels
utilise a dichotomy between two girls (in this book, cousins) with a peripheral Aboriginal
character. In The Winds of Heaven, Fan’s elderly Aboriginal friend remains off stage. We
learn that he has taught Fan his language and culture, and this connection gives the story an
earthy depth. Fan teaches Clementine his words like bilirr (cockatoo) and gindaymaidhaany

(sisters), but Clementine remains stuck fast in her traditional Sydney lifestyle.
The suggestion that Fan’s storytelling friend was run out of town by racist townspeople is

subtle; he may have simply moved on. His absence uproots her.

The cousins are drawn as opposites, but see strengths in the other that they perceive lacking in themselves. There are the dichotomies of wealth and poverty, nuclear family unit and broken home, educated and uneducated, nurtured and abused, with Fan emerging the poorer each time.

The cousins’ emotional closeness contrasts with the chasm between their mothers who are
sisters. One married well. Rene, Fan’s mother, however, is a vicious, bitter woman whose
husband deserted her for Gunnesweare (Clementine eventually works out she is screaming
‘God knows where!’). Rene physically abuses her youngest daughter, that little madam, while
her scream got into things and made them weak: you felt that if you picked up your cup it. Rene’s moral failing is offensive to her sister, and because of their place in history she abandons Rene. In this act she also abandons Fan to her fate.
Fan’s downfall is drawn out, beautiful like shattered stained glass, and tragic. As a librarian I
found Judith’s library scene excruciating. I wanted to find her poem for her and give Cash a
bag of picture books to take home. The fact that this is Fan’s breaking point, when she is
stripped of her identity as Yirigaa (morning star), is so sad.
Clementine, who is Everywoman, comes through too late for Fan, but redeems herself as an
older woman by establishing a nurturing relationship with Fan’s granddaughter, also called
Fan. Would real life have ended so neatly?
In fiction, teenage pregnancy can go down three equally difficult paths – botched abortion,
loveless marriage or suicide. Lawrinson’s Bye Beautiful tried the loveless marriage while

Winds climaxes with Fan’s bloodless suicide. In a classroom reading, readers may discuss how this issue has altered in society. What community support and legal protection would Fan
have access to today? Regarding Australia’s treatment of Aboriginal Australians, how has this
country’s perception of its original inhabitants changed since the 1950s?
What would you have done as Fan’s gindaymaidhaany?

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This entry was posted on February 27, 2011 by in australian, fiction, review, YA.
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