Such is Life - Books Die Slowly

Books die slowly, usually having short revivals with a new anniversary edition or when a movie or TV series is made based on the book. The book Such is Life, written by Joseph Furphy, was published in 1903. Now Andrew Furphy, the great-grandson of Joseph Furphy’s brother, is called to the artist’s life and decides to create a short film from an excerpt of Such is Life.

Previously in the family ironworks business, Andrew now enters the Riverina to make his film. The film is to be based off the excerpt in which a little girl gets lost in the Australian bush. Early settlers lived in fear of their children wandering off into the wilderness, and Joseph Furphy himself was involved in two searches for lost children; none of the children were found alive.

Andrew and his scriptwriter set out for the Riverina and a quote by Richard Flanagan plays over and over in the scriptwriter’s head: “Film is what you achieve with a small army of anarchists embroiled in constant civil war, without enough money, running out of time, in a state of exhaustion, when you daily face the possibility of being sacked”. The title of the film will be Child Lost on Goolumbulla and will be filmed around Hay. Joseph Furphy once lived in Hay, but changed the names of properties and characters, so Andrew can only guess at the story’s setting.

The people along the Lachlan are extremely friendly to the filmmaker and his crew. The area has endured 18 years of drought and the boom of the 1950s is a distant ghost roaming through the town. The children have moved on, leaving an aging population. Still, the people are generous and helpful, providing all that is needed. The location for filming is found at Thelangerin.

By the time shooting is ready, all has been taken care of. The storyboard is mapped, caterers and insurance has been organized and boundary huts are repaired. All the pieces are in place and the set is silent. Any farmer can tell you what happens next: it begins to rain. And not just any rain, but a torrential downpour. A flood comes from Murrumbidgee, widening the river and causing it to rise against the town levee.

Hay is declared a disaster area and evacuation is ordered. Naturally the townspeople refuse to evacuate. They have been through flood, fire and drought before. The filmmakers, however, aren’t as resilient. “Unemployed, at last!” is the first line of Such is Life and too accurately declares Andrew’s situation. They pack up, leaving their story of the little lost girl untold.

When the summer comes and the land is returned to its normal state, Andrew will once again feel the call of the artist. He will once again make preparations for his film. He will once again begin to doubt his film. Will anyone love the little girl when she is finally lost? Will anyone read Such is Life and revive it again, if only for a moment?