The novel Cloudstreet is set at the large, but run-down, house at 1 Cloud Street in Perth, Western Australia.
The Pickles family inherits the house and move in (from a more rural suburb of WA). Fairly quickly, they rent half the house (and the subdivided backyard) to the Lamb family (who also have moved to Perth from a rural, coastal, town).
Both families are large, but impoverished, and the moves of both families are precipitated by disaster. For the Lambs, it is the near-drowning of their child Samson (aka Fish). For the Pickles, it is the loss of father Sam's fingers in a fishing accident.
The Lambs open a grocery store in the bottom of the house. This store becomes known to the community by a single word, 'Cloudstreet'. While the Lambs use income from the store to offset their rent, the store also accentuates the uneasiness between the two families.
The book follows the contrasting characteristics of both families - the relationships of the adults and the development of the children - over twenty years. Circulatory in nature, the book begins and ends with a family picnic where Fish has a defining encounter with water.