Anyone who has any romantic ideas about running a cattle farm in the Australian Outback should read The Hands, you will soon get rid of those notions. The heat, the years of drought, the un-relentlessness of Outback nature, the family scandal controlling the Wilkie’s family, they do not make for easy living. When wife Carelyn dies in a car crash, the lives of the others start crashing as well.
Living in one small house with more generations and family members on a farm heavily into debt is no sinecure. Granddad Murray is no longer fit to run the farm, both physically and mentally, but stubbornly refuses to hand over the deeds to his son Trevor. He finds him lacking in every aspect and not capable of making the right decisions (that is, go to the bank for another loan instead of considering a worthwhile offer). Trevor is feeling the pressure of having to run a farm that only costs money, watching the cattle die of hunger. Sons Aidan and Harry start to realize that there is a huge difference between the romance of cattle runs and effectively running a farm.
Talking about problems is for sissies, not for tough Outback families. As a result no-one ever talks about this one son deserting in World War 1, about his father committing suicide, Murray’s wife getting kicked to death, Carelyn dying or the financial problems. All is well if it is not spoken about.
In the novel the family problems and the challenge of the Outback come together beautifully. Orr has the family members speak in short, level-headed sentences meanwhile describing nature elaborately with a flourish. The contrast works well.
The Hands is a beautiful novel about a family coming to understand the true values of tradition and romantic notions. Trevor, Aidan and Harry decide to leave behind their lives, Murray will stick around to the very end. He cannot grasp that change can be a good thing.