The Iron Wire

Written by Garry Kilworth
Review by Julia Stoneham

In an instantly captivating, first-person narrative, using the voice of his character, “Alexander McKensie,” Garry Kilworth tells the remarkable story of the construction of the Adelaide to Port Darwin overland telegraph line.

Caught, slightly awkwardly, between this small workforce, the best of whom are little better than criminals and the two “managers” to whom he is directly answerable, McKensie finds a few staunch allies in unexpected places as he quietly attends to his work and plans for the day when, with this assignment completed, his fiancée will sail from England to marry him.

There is real tension in the development of this novel. Incidents of violence between the men are frequent and are the result of declining morale brought on by the isolation, the deprivation in terms of living conditions, the lack of medical aid, the endless succession of sweltering days and the unremitting physical strain of the work. All of this is vividly conveyed to the reader in prose which is quietly effective.

While Kilworth never over-colours his descriptions, he will suddenly give us an amazing phrase, for an example, “There are giant boulders, smooth-looking and almost perfectly round. They lie like fallen, red moons upon the dusty terrain. Despite their hugeness, they seem to have a feminine quality about them, having come, perhaps, from the womb of the sky”.

There are places where the structure seems rather too cleverly managed, but in terms of characterisations and a fascinating depiction of that place at that time, The Iron Wire is an original and powerful piece of writing.