(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Passage is the story of the Callaway family over a period of thirty-odd years and their relationship to a small area along the sparsely populated north-central coast of eastern Australia. Prior to the beginning of the novel, Bob Callaway had settled on the mainland across a narrow passage from Rathbone Island with his wife, Anna. He was good-natured, loving, and willing to work for his modest living among the tiny community of fishing families, but at unpredictable intervals would go “walkabout” (wandering) for months on end. The memory of this, along with a small house on the coast, remained as Bob Callaway’s legacy to his children.

The action proper begins after Bob’s death. Anna is attempting to rear her children: Fred, the oldest, followed by Lew, Hughie, Marnie, and Dot. Anna has aspirations for her children beyond the limited opportunities at the Passage. She sees their education as crucial to escaping the cloistered life of the Passage and to this end has sacrificed Lew to a life of labor among the fishermen to finance her dreams for the others, whom she views as more promising. Lew is a powerful, patient, slow-moving man seemingly suited for such a life. His laconic manner is deceptive, however, as it hides a sensitive nature. He perceives his mother’s intentions and resents her manipulations. Still, he recognizes need, and as no one else in the family is prepared to act as provider, he goes on with his work day after day.

Clem McNair, daughter of an itinerant quack doctor who owns land in the area, provides Lew with occasional company. She is an aspiring art student who wishes to leave the Passage to develop her own skills and is the only one to recognize in Lew his innate sensitivity, not unlike her own. She leaves, however, to attend various art schools in Europe. Lew laments her departure, as she provided an outlet to express his reflective self.

Anna, meanwhile, has focused her attention on Hughie. As a bright, energetic boy, he represents the pinnacle of her hopes. When he suddenly decides to leave school early to pursue part-time work with a local merchant, she is suspicious of his motivation and blames Lew. She softens somewhat when Hughie not only establishes a good reputation for himself among the locals but also proves to be a perspicacious young entrepreneur in starting a string of successful businesses in the area. Lew finances the businesses in the early stages, providing a stage for Hughie’s dramatic activities, but receives little recognition for his contribution, earned by hard work over the years.

Hughie’s success is dazzling. He is quickly catapulted into a...

(The entire section is 1085 words.)

The Passage Bibliography

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Barnard, M. F., and F. S. P. Eldershaw. Essays on Australian Fiction, 1938.

Heseltine, H. P. Vance Palmer, 1970.

McKellar, J. “Vance Palmer as Novelist,” in Southerly. XV (1954), pp. 16-25.

Smith, Vivian. Vance and Nettie Palmer, 1975.