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OVERVIEW

Jamie Riley is not a bad boy, but his lack of family support, and a rather unfortunate attitude mean that he’s had his fair share of trouble. When he is sent to Port Barren as an alternative to going to jail, he is put in the care of a social worker, Lorraine, and is boarded with the sage Archie. His troubles begin almost immediately when Elliot Butcher, the local police sergeant, harasses him. He soon finds out that the town has an evil atmosphere and an unfortunate history. Two young people have mysteriously disappeared: one, a problem kid
from the city like Jamie; and the other, a young girl, a survivor of a massacre on a refugee boat.

Jamie begins hearing voices, particularly when he explores the boat, abandoned on the beach. As the messages become stronger, and as the provocation from Butcher increases, Jamie begins to understand the real cause
of the town’s trouble. Because of this, he is kidnapped by Butcher and abandoned at Flaherety’s Curse, the disused mine works far from town. Just as it seems he is to follow the same fate as his predecessors, a school
friend Cameron rescues him. After discovering the bones of the dead refugee girl, they begin the long walk back to town to prove Butcher’s guilt. On their return, the story reaches its climax when Butcher traps Jamie in the boat that he sets alight. Jamie is rescued just in time and he is able to lay the girl’s spirit to rest and restore harmony to the town.

Character

‘James Riley, seventeen, father missing, mother deceased, one brother currently serving a maximum security sentence for armed robbery and theft,’ is an unwilling hero. For most of his life the efforts of social workers and cops have been entertainment for him. He’s managed to deal with them, as with most things by a quiet, ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude. However this is not enough to deal with the malevolence he faces, nor with the voices which reach out to him from the past, when he is sent to isolated care in Point Barren, the scene of some of his last childhood memories with his mother.

Setting

This is no holiday resort. The gritty landscape, balanced between the sea and the desert, is always a presence. Set on the northwestern tip of Australia, the remote mining town has lost its equilibrium as a result of its violent past.

Plot

Jamie’s journey is an archetypal search for identity that should hold strong appeal for boys. There’s tension and the supernatural here, as the plot is driven relentlessly forward. His initial attempts to stay out of trouble are a failure as he responds more urgently to the mysterious calls from the abandoned boat and the intense provocation of the crooked policeman. With the assistance of his schoolmate Cameron, Jamie finds himself at the centre of a struggle to lay to rest the town’s ghosts, and ultimately on an arduous journey to survive and to reveal the truth.

Themes

The book offers a new perspective on the isolation of Australian life. It focuses less on the Aboriginal Culture suggested in the ‘Dreaming’ of the title, than on a more inclusive interpretation of belonging, drawing in the refugees from the north into the cultural and narrative history of the area. Jamie himself finds a new sense of place at the end of the novel, no longer a ‘wanderer’ or a ‘lost one’, but a ‘local’. And it is in the final resting place of the dead girl that the novel achieves its resolution and the creation of a new kind of dreaming.
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