Eucalyptus by Murray Bail

euca.jpegHarvest Book, 1998, 255 pages


A story of old fashioned medieval type courtship that’s as magical and simple as a fairy tale.

Not so once upon a time, there was a widower called Holland, who had a vast planation of eucalyptus off in New South Wales. (” It was west of Sydney, over the ranges and into the sun–about four hours in a Japanese car”)

He is obsessed with his eucalypts as he is protective with his only daughter–Ellen, a 19- year old ethereal beauty who has captured men not only around New South Wales, but as far as New Zealand, Tasmania and Darwin. (Her “speckled” beauty is so captivating it turns loud mouthed men into stuttering lambs and the very first male who saw her naked died)


Holland always cautions his daughter to “beware of any man who deliberately tells a story. You’re going to come across men. like that. I want you to listen to me. There’s no real reason for you to be going into town. But leaving that aside, its worth asking, when a man starts concocting a story in front of you. Why is he telling it? What does he want?”


Tired of all these men hovering around his daughter, Holland one day decides to hold an auction/contest. Whoever can correctly name ALL the species of eucalyptus tress in his plantation is free to marry his daughter.

Hundreds of men, young lads, even old men come and try their hand/brains/memory at the conquest. As with other fairy tales, many tried, but failed. Meanwhile, Ellen is getting less and less impressed with the pursuit for her hand. She doesn’t know anymore if the men are more interested in the conquest, or herself.

The men grew weary and soon hundreds trickled into dozens, until the only suitor left was a Mr. Cave, a eucalyptus expert from Adelaide. Day by day, Mr. Cave continues to succeed, and Holland seems to be getting along well with his prospective son-in-law. Soon it was obvious that it was only a matter of days until Ellen would be given away..that is until, one day, Ellen stumbles upon a stranger resting on one of their trees.

This stranger, who was unlike all the other suitors, appeared to be uninterested in Ellen, and, just as her father forewarned her, seems to draw her in his numerous tales of just about anything. In the meantime, as Mr. Cave draws closer and closer to becoming the successful suitor, Ellen gets drawn deeper and deeper by this nameless storyteller.

Just who exactly is this mysterious storyteller that has captured the normally aloof Ellen?

I just found out that there were plans of a movie adaptation of this book, starring Russel Crowe and Nicole Kidman. But the production was halted due to “creative differences” between the director and Crowe and, perhaps from Bail, who was reportedly not very satisfied with Kidman portraying his 19 year old muse.

Save for the frequent scientific information on eucalyptus, Bail’s narration is beautiful, and wraps around you, almost entangles you in inside a web of stories. These stories inside the stories unfolds gracefully the identity of the indifferent stranger. And will spark your insight as to why those who truly love us are often unoticed. Recommended.


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