I was enchanted by this book from the first page, charmed by the unusual setting, the strange story and the narrative voice. Mary is writing what she calls a memoir, thirty years after the events of 1908 in the whaling community at Eden, NSW. ‘Rush Oh!’ is apparently the whalers’ cry to man the boats when a whale is sighted. She describes her father ‘Fearless’ Davidson and his crew of whale men, her family and the locals in Eden. The family has its tragedies and Mary herself is disappointed in love, yet she is without self pity. She has the gift of writing about extraordinary events in a completely matter of fact way. At one point she says she’ll try to describe a whale hunt although she fears her tale will compare badly with ‘Mr Melville’. Then she makes a thrilling story of it.
It’s a hard life. Mary is bringing up a motherless family and is responsible for cooking for the whale men. A bad season for whales means no money coming in. The children grow up quite used to having a whale jawbone in the garden and living with the unpleasant smells associated with the trade. The very idea of whaling is repulsive today but you have to admire the bravery of Davidson and his crews, going after whales in rowing boats, armed only with hand held harpoons. One of the most fascinating aspects of the whaling is that the killer whales helped the whalers, rounding up the right whales for slaughter. Davidson’s favourite killer is Tom, who seems to have a special relationship with him.
I was just slightly disappointed to find that the story is based on true events and that George Davidson really existed. With a little research online (look for the Eden Killer Whale museum), you can find photos of Twofold Bay, Eden and even Tom and some of the other killers. Rush Oh! has been longlisted for the 2016 Baileys Women's Fiction Prize and I can see why. It’s fresh and unusual and I love the writing style. I read it courtesy of NetGalley.