Swallow the Air


Tara June Winch

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A Wiradjuri elder living in Lake Cowal and organizing protests of the mining company that wants to set up drilling operations there. May meets Issy when she arrives at the lake (the center of traditional Wiradjuri lands) during her quest to find her Gibson family. Issy takes the young girl under her wing, teaching her about their common heritage; it’s Issy’s principles that inspire May’s later epiphany about the spiritual connection between humans and nature. While May’s Gibson relatives prove a disappointment, meeting Aboriginal mentors like Issy make her journey instructive and worthwhile.

Issy Quotes in Swallow the Air

The Swallow the Air quotes below are all either spoken by Issy or refer to Issy. 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.
14. Just Dust Quotes

Issy says they don’t understand that just because you can’t see something, don’t mean it’s not there. She says that under the earth, the land we stand on, under all this is water. She says that our people are born from quartz crystal, hard water. We are powerful people, strong people.

Related Characters: May Gibson (speaker), Issy
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:
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Swallow the Air PDF

Issy Character Timeline in Swallow the Air

The timeline below shows where the character Issy appears in Swallow the Air. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
14. Just Dust
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
At the lake, May meets an old woman named Issy, who lives near the lake and has dedicated herself to protesting the mining company that... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
Issy tells May that the lake “works like a heart, pumping its lifeblood from under the... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Issy draws a circle in the ground and tells May that everything is sacred, both inside... (full context)
16. Bila Snake
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
The morning after speaking with Issy, May stands looking at the sleepy river and its slow-moving, dusty water. It seems to... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
...with the shellfish she’s used to eating. The next morning, she reaches the big sign Issy told her about and knows it’s time to leave the river and follow the highway. (full context)
18. Country
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...the shore where she started. Everything seems to make sense to her now. She remembers Issy’s drawing; now, she knows that it illustrated the lack of boundaries between the land, the... (full context)