Swallow the Air

by

Tara June Winch

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Aunty Character Analysis

Mum’s sister and May’s aunt, who takes in May and Billy after Mum commits suicide. While Aunty is loving and affectionate, she’s not a very reliable caretaker. She’s addicted to drinking and gambling, and often vanishes to the casinos or spends the family’s little money on her addictions. Aunty reflects the substance abuse that characterizes many Aboriginal communities, largely due to a long history of colonial mistreatment and the current lack of opportunity within Anglo-Australian society. It’s partly to escape the instability of family life with Aunty that May leaves home in search of more functional relatives. However, as she matures throughout the novel, May learns to appreciate Aunty despite her weaknesses. When she finally returns home and consoles Aunty about her imminent eviction, May emerges as the caretaker of the person who once took care of her, showing her renewed devotion to her family.

Aunty Quotes in Swallow the Air

The Swallow the Air quotes below are all either spoken by Aunty or refer to Aunty. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the University of Queensland Press edition of Swallow the Air published in 2006.
20. Home Quotes

My mother knows that I am home, at the water I am always home. Aunty and my brother, we are from the same people, we are of the Wiradjuri nation, hard water. We are of the river country, and we have flowed down the rivers to estuaries to oceans.

Related Characters: May Gibson (speaker), Mum, Billy Gibson, Aunty
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

An excavator starts its smothering engine over the torrent of each barrel. Over the sun. Over the blue. And I wonder, if we stand here, if we stay, if they stop digging up Aunty’s backyard, stop digging up a mother’s memory, stop digging up our people, maybe then, we’ll all stop crying.

Related Characters: May Gibson (speaker), Aunty
Related Symbols: Housing Projects
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Swallow the Air LitChart as a printable PDF.
Swallow the Air PDF

Aunty Character Timeline in Swallow the Air

The timeline below shows where the character Aunty appears in Swallow the Air. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1. Swallow the Air
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...and sends them to go fishing in the ocean. She reminds them to go to Aunty’s house when it gets dark, and tells them that she loves them. When May looks... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
...catches any fish, only some small shellfish called pipis. Billy says they should go to Aunty’s house and see if she has any food for them. Together, they wash their feet... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
When May and Billy arrive at Aunty’s house, they find a police car outside. In the house, Aunty sobs as she hugs... (full context)
2. Grab
Family Theme Icon
Aunty believes that she is fundamentally unlucky. She’s lived in the same poor suburb her whole... (full context)
Displacement Theme Icon
Every time she goes to Woolies (the supermarket), Aunty enters the Tip Top lottery, in which the winners have an allotted amount of time... (full context)
Displacement Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
At the Grocery Grab, Billy and May watch and cheer while Aunty runs down the aisles frantically throwing food into her cart. They yell out the names... (full context)
Displacement Theme Icon
After the contest is over, Aunty laughs when she realizes they don’t even own a freezer to store all the food.... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
...Christmas, until the food runs out and they have nothing to put in the freezer. Aunty’s feeling of luck is like a “scrounging leech,” driving her to buy scratch lottery cards... (full context)
4. My Bleeding Palm
Family Theme Icon
...grade, she wins the school art prize and Billy gets a job delivering milk. Sometimes Aunty has good days at the poker table and brings home Chinese food. It feels like... (full context)
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
One day, Aunty dresses up in stilettos and goes out to visit her new boyfriend. May wanders into... (full context)
6. Leaving Paradise
Family Theme Icon
When Billy turns eighteen, he and May are still living with Aunty. Along with her boyfriend Craig, Aunty is a serious alcoholic and the house no longer... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
On Billy’s birthday, May buys a cake and Aunty gives him a flask filled with bourbon. She tells him that Mum would be proud... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
When Billy and May get home, they find Craig holding Aunty’s face next to the red-hot stovetop. Billy grabs Craig’s arm and Aunty falls safely to... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...all his usual hiding places, she can’t track him down and he never returns to Aunty’s house. As she spends more time without him, May realizes that without Billy, “we were... (full context)
7. To Run
Family Theme Icon
...to improve, May “[takes] the mango into my mouth” and decides to search for Dad. Aunty can’t appreciate the postcard as May does; she is too consumed by alcoholism. If she... (full context)
10. Chocolate
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
...orders her to get back to work. May thinks back to the police cars outside Aunty’s house that announced her mother’s death; to her, it seems like the police are always... (full context)
20. Home
Displacement Theme Icon
...here. Moreover, she knows that she’ll always be at home wherever there’s water—after all, she, Aunty, Mum, and Billy are all of the Wiradjuri, or “hard water” people. Even though this... (full context)
Displacement Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
In high spirits, May walks through the broken fence and shouts that Aunty should get it fixed. She runs into the house to find Aunty drinking a beer... (full context)
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...table, all different colors and materials. She remembers visiting the house with Mum every time Aunty bought a new tablecloth. As a young girl, she was always excited to see the... (full context)