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Bibliophile | Racism & misogyny lurks in rural noir 'The Cane'

The Cane
by Maryrose Cuskelly
Allen & Unwin

Maryrose Cuskelly was born in Queensland where, in the early 1970s, there were several child abductions and murders. The 1972 disappearance of Mackay girl Marilyn Wallman while riding her bike just 800 metres to the bus stop to go to school made a lasting impression on her. Many people can relate to something similar that made them lock their doors at night.

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Her suspenseful novel takes place at that time of the year when farmers are about to burn the cane before the harvest in the north Queensland town of Quala. Sixteen year-old Janet McClymont goes missing when taking a short cut through the cane fields to a neighbour’s property to babysit their daughters, and hundreds of people come out to search for her.

Janet’s mother Barbara goes out every morning to walk through the cane fields near where her daughter’s bag was found and the whole town is on high alert. As the weeks go by without any discoveries being made of a body or a murderer, plenty of people in the parochial country town come under suspicion and the neighbouring farmers are anxious to begin burning the cane.

“Who is responsible for Janet McClymont’s disappearance is a subject that bubbles beneath almost every conversation …” Everyone hoped that it was a random opportunistic stranger who had taken Janet, rather than her lying dead somewhere, or worse still, there was a killer living amongst them. The townspeople are reminded of another disappearance of sixteen year-old girl ten years previously. Her body was found but there remain doubts as to the circumstances of her death.

Racism, misogyny and distrust of interlopers and anyone with ‘radical views’ underpin most of the suspicions in this rural noir and the fields of towering sugar cane add to the claustrophobic tension. Like the closed off township, the cane with “… its burgeoning growth, its thick stalks and impenetrability” felt like there was “something lurking within it, hidden and malevolent”.

Lezly Herbert


Do you need some support?

If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, support and counselling are available from:

QLife: 1800 184 527 / qlife.org.au (Webchat 3pm – midnight)
QLife are a counselling and referral service for LGBTQIA+ people.

DISCHARGED: 9364 6909 / waamh.org.au / wearedischarged@gmail.com
Discharged is a trans-led support service with peer support groups for trans and gender diverse folks.

Lifeline: 13 11 14 / lifeline.org.au

Beyondblue: 1300 22 4636 / www.beyondblue.org.au


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