Ashley arranges for Bert to take Jim up in the biplane, thinking it will delight him to be in the air amongst the birds. However, he’s wrong about this, since Jim is uninterested in climbing into the sky. In fact, he discovers that he’s quite afraid of going up in Bert’s aircraft, though he doesn’t voice this fear. Instead, he shows up at the agreed upon time and gets into the plane, which seems small and unwieldy. As he does so, he considers the fact that these machines have “entered a new dimension” in the past few months—while they used to be “toys of a boyish but innocent adventuring,” now they are “weapons” that have already dropped bombs in Europe. In fact, in just two weeks, Bert himself will join the military as a pilot.
Part of the reason that Jim has no interest in flying in Bert’s plane is probably due to the fact that he draws a stark delineation between the sky and the ground. In the very first chapter, Malouf makes it clear that Jim believes the sky belongs to the birds. As such, the young man thinks that airplanes have no business careening through the air. In addition, it doesn’t help that these aircrafts themselves represent the kind of industrial advancements that have made World War I possible on such a large scale.
When the biplane gets into the air, Jim looks down and sees that the aerial view of the swampland he often imagines is actually quite accurate. The experience is a “confirmation” that the image in his head is “a true picture and that he need never go up again.” Still, he thinks about this internal “map” and compares it to what the birds must have in their own heads, realizing just how extraordinary it is that these tiny creatures have such an intuitive sense of a vast geography.
Jim finds that his conception of his own home remains unaltered by this new vantage point, underscoring the deep, intuitive connection he has to the land. Rather than changing the way he sees his surroundings, this experience in the airplane only makes him appreciate birds all the more, marveling at their ability to navigate such large distances.
Around this time, people start responding to the war with a “new seriousness” brought about by their closeness to the increasing number of dead. Jim’s father suddenly starts talking about how he would gladly go to war if he were young enough, and Jim senses that the old man thinks he—Jim—“should be lost as well.” A “bitter” man, his father believes that Jim is “depriving him of his chance” to be a part of “the new century.” Two weeks later, Jim gets drunk and signs up for the military, thinking that if he doesn’t go, he won’t understand how or why everything around him has changed.
Malouf presents Jim’s father as a selfish man. Indeed, he is the kind of person who wants to be able to relate to current events even if it means endangering his son’s life by sending him to war. He wants to feel as if he has some stake in “the new century.” Interestingly enough, Jim ends up joining the war for similar reasons—he doesn’t want to wake up one day and realize that everything has changed for reasons he can’t understand. Since everybody in his generation is so eagerly going to war, he decides it’s necessary to follow them if he wants to comprehend the world’s inevitable transformation.
Ashley doesn’t say much when Jim tells him he has signed up for the war, though it goes without saying that Jim’s job will be waiting for him when he returns. Miss Harcourt, on the other hand, seems hurt and angry. Nevertheless, she’s the one who ends up accompanying him to the train station when he leaves. As for his father, he finally becomes “sentimental,” giving his son some money and drawing him close. This makes Jim suddenly feel “as if a line had been drawn between the past” and future, “the two parts of his life,” the first of which he can see “clearly now” that he is leaving it. Within three months, after Julia gives birth to their first child, Ashley joins the war as an officer.
Malouf has already made it clear that Jim is sensitive to the ways in which things are divided or separated. Jim now applies this idea of demarcation to his own life, drawing a line between all he has known thus far and what is to come. Venturing forth into a new life, Malouf suggests, is the only way to gain clarity about the past. As Jim moves toward an unknown future, his perspective on his life in Australia suddenly shifts, granting him a new vantage point from which to consider his youth.