Swallow the Air

by

Tara June Winch

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Swallow the Air: 13. Mapping Waterglass Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
May buys hot chips at a dusty rest stop before setting out to hitchhike; she can see a summer storm in the distance. Soon, a man in a pickup truck named Gary offers her a ride toward Lake Cowal, the lake she’s always heard about from Mum. He tells her about his pregnant wife and plays Van Morrison tapes; May loves the song “Brown Eyed Girl,” which reminds her of sitting in the car and watching her mother drive on the road along the sea. Mum always took her to the ocean so that she could “show” her stories about the animals, instead of just telling them.
Again, May relies on memories to direct her course of action—she feels she’s doing the right thing now because she remembers doing something similar with Mum. While her memories of Dad were untrustworthy, her time with Mum—fresher in her mind and less tinged with abuse—is still a useful guide.
Themes
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
As they drive through the flat land, dotted with small towns, Gary complains that people never leave places like these. Soon, they’re approaching Lake Cowal and Gary gives May his number, telling her that he and his wife would be happy to have her if she ever needs a place to stay. May thanks him but says she wants to stay by the water; she’s full of “daydreams of Windradyne.”
By now, May’s interest in her Aboriginal identity is almost as much a guiding force as her memories of Mum. She’s determined to reach the water that was so important to her ancestors and links her to her heritage, even though it means giving up a meal and a place to stay.
Themes
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
As they draw near to the town, Gary offhandedly asks May if she knows about the mining compound. Soon, she sees that a large area is enclosed in barbed-wire fence with a mining company banner strung along it. Gary says that there’s a lot of money to be made here and no one can stop it, not even “the black fellas out there at the blockade.” May asks why there’s no water in the lake, and Gary laughs, saying it’s been dry since he was a child.
Just as her search for Dad turned out much differently than she expected, this destination isn’t the untouched paradise she’d hoped for. Almost all of May’s quests are superficially “failures,” but even as they don’t achieve the original objective, they increase her knowledge and maturity.
Themes
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
May gets out of the car and walks to the dusty edge of the lake. All the stories Mum told her centered around this place, “where all Wiradjuri would stop to drink.” The lake represents the “footprints of your ancestors,” Mum said. May touches the banner and then watches it fade away in the twilight, thinking of the Van Morrison song she heard in the car.
This scene is poignant—May has to balance her individual reverence to this lake through its associations with Mum, her connection to it through her Wiradjuri heritage, and its current imperiled state. Because the lake is so important to May, the mine’s encroachment is a threat to all the memories she holds dear.
Themes
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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