“cloudstreet” by Tim Winton – The Pickles and the Lambs

“cloudstreet” by Tim Winton (1991) – 426 pages

 When I was a kid, there were two kinds of relatives and neighbors. There were the respectable families about whom you usually did not hear a whisper of gossip; their lives were to all appearances very proper and boring.  Then there were those I will call the “ne’er do wells” about whom you heard just about every wild and crazy story imaginable.  “cloudstreet” is about this second group of people. 

 In “cloudstreet”, two families divide up this big old house, the Pickles and the Lambs.  But Oriel Lamb, the Lamb wife and mother and also an enterprising storekeeper, moves out to a big white tent in the front yard.

    “She’s ad enough kids, said the women of the street.
     She’s caught him out, said the blokes.
    But the real reason remained a mystery, even to Oriel Lamb.”

A while back Whispering Gums printed the results of several different polls of the top ten Australian novels of all time.  On three of the four lists, “cloudstreet” was Number One. I decided then and there that I must read Tim Winton and especially “cloudstreet” as soon as possible.

“cloudstreet” is written in a language I will call Australian.   Take the following sentence. 

    “A few days of this and they’d be chookraffling him to the nut house.”

I have no idea what ‘chookraffling’ means, not sure I want to know, but I totally understand the sentence and the sentiment.  It says on the cover that “cloudstreet” has been translated into 12 languages, and I’m curious on how they translated “chookraffling”.  Maybe someone from Australia can also explain what ‘carn’ means as in “Carn, then, let’s go home, I’m stranglin for a cuppa.”

There are very few books that I’ve had as much fun reading as “cloudstreet”. It’s a real crowd pleaser.  There are about eight stories involving Pickle and Lamb family members going on all the time, madcap and hysterical.  It’s extremely humorous in places, but also very moving in places.  There is always another story to hold your interest.

    “As the days cannoned on, and the heat got meaner, everybody did things crazier than normal. They bought things, they heard things, they moved things, they joined things and left things. They were mad, loony, loopy with summer.”

 This novel was a tremendous reading experience, and soon I will read “The Riders”.  Coming from a family which somewhat resembles the Pickles and the Lambs, how could I resist?  I am tempted to compare Tim Winton with another great Australian writer Patrick White, but it would be like comparing apples to claw-hammers or visa versa.

13 responses to this post.

  1. *chuckle*
    A chook is a chicken, and a chook raffle most commonly takes place (I am told) in a pub, where the chicken is raffled to the assembled company. I have never actually seen a chook raffle, and the gossip about pub raffles these days is mostly about the raffle item being ‘hot’ i.e. stolen. I have no idea whether this is true or not as the only time I ever go into Australian pubs is when I’m travelling in the countryside and there is nowhere else to eat.
    The idea of the chook raffle originally comes from the days when a chicken was a luxury item and it was often the only way a poor family got to have one, which was important at times like Christmas. They could afford a raffle ticket but not a chicken. The expression encapsulates the notion of Australians as inveterate gamblers as well as the allusion to being one of the marginalised.


  2. Hi Lisa,
    Thank you for the thorough explanation of “Chookraffling”. I ‘m still wondering a little about its usage in “chookraffling him to the nuthouse”. I suppose in the Australian pubs it was a live chicken that was raffled.
    The bars around here in Anoka, Minnesota still have meat raffles which are a big draw. I’ve already won a couple of steaks.


  3. Tony: What an excellent review! I too love books that have references whose complete meaning escapes me but where the context supplies enough hints to make a good guess (I suspect you would have been very close on “chookraffling”).

    I’ve only read one Winton (Breath) but have him marked down for future exploration — his Australian world and characters have a lot in common with Western Canada (and I suspect Minnesota as well).


    • Hi Kevin,
      Winton uses ‘chook’ for chicken in several other places, but that still didn’t explain ‘chookraffling’. So I guess he’s using it for any form of popular informal betting.
      I’m trying to think of other novels about families of lower class people doing all kinds of ridiculous, lovable things, but at the moment can’t think of any.


  4. Carn, is “strine” (as in Australian) for “come on”.

    Love your review … and so glad you liked it. I think you got its sense perfectly, it’s humour and its pathos. It’s been many years since I read it, and feel I should read it again. If I had I would have included that quote as one of my summer/sun Delicious descriptions I reckon.

    As for “chookraffling”, it feels like one of those phrases that has multiple connotations and that is hard to put into specific words. They were mostly dead/prepared chooks. My uncle won them regularly at his (lawn) bowling club (as they were frequently raffled in those sorts of sport clubs. “She couldn’t run a chook raffle” implies someone is disorganised. I think it just means they’d be selling tickets to get rid of him. But I’d have to read the book again to be fully clear.


    • Hi WhisperingGums,
      Now I’m beginning to understand. “Chookraffles” were a popular activity at these social clubs and pubs. He’s saying he better watch out, or they’ll chookraffle him to the nuthouse. That probably means they’d all take bets on the day he will arrive there.
      I’ve seen that word ‘carn’ in other Australian novels but never did understand it. You say it means ‘come on’ and that makes a lot of sense. Why ‘strine’ means ‘Australian’ makes a lot less sense.


      • Yes, I think that would be right re the meaning of “chookraffling” in that context.

        Re “Strine”. It’s all in the contraction and the accent. “Carn” is a contraction and a slightly different pronunciation of “come on”. “Strine” is a contraction of “Australian” – from “orstrylian” to “strine”. If you say it often enough fast enough you might just hear it!


  5. Posted by kimbofo on February 27, 2011 at 3:37 PM

    Well I see Lisa and Whispering Gums have beaten me to it on the “explanation of terms” front.

    I don’t think you’d see many chook raffles today; it’s more or less meat trays all the way now! And I doubt whether many pubs would hold raffles these days, but they are common fund-raisers for social clubs and sports clubs.

    As to the book, I read this way back in the early 1990s. I remember loving it, but there’s something about it now that makes me think I’d probably hate it — in the sense that it seems too calculated in its Australian-ness.


    • Hi Kimbofo,
      I was going to try comparing ‘cloudstreet” to Patrick White but decided the two had absolutely nothing in common besides their Australian-ness. I see Tim Winton as a tremendous crowdpleaser but maybe not in the same league as Patrick White. I suppose most people who read Winton think White is an old fuddy-duddy, probably barely heard of him. It is impossible to compare them. Maybe a better comparison would be between ‘cloudstreet’ and ‘Harp in the South’, two books that capture a part of Australia.


      • Posted by kimbofo on March 3, 2011 at 6:42 PM

        Yes,I agree: this book would be better compared with Harp in the South rather than anything by our esteemed Mr White!

        Have you read any of Winton’s other novels? I’ve just read The Riders, which was shortlisted for the 1995 Booker, and found it a terrific read. I expect to review it some time in the next week or so.


        • Hi kimbofo,
          “The Riders” will be my next Winton read. Somehow it seems that his books get reviewed less well the more books he writes.


          • I’ll be interested in your comments – kimbofo and Tony. I read The riders 10 or so years ago. I recollect thinking it was a great read but it didn’t grab me beyond that the way some of his other books have. The Irish setting was great though.


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