The Stawell Easter Gift is a 'Sheffield Handicap' that has been run since 1878 over a distance of 130 yards on Easter Monday in the goldmining town of Stawell in rural Victoria. It has unique features that hark back to another sporting era: the race is run on grass on a track that slopes very slightly up hill; white cords mark the running lanes; and the spectators sit in a grandstand dating from the eighteenth century. The race has a staggered start and is governed by a handicap system; the winner receives a cash prize; and the punters hope to make their fortunes. This book is a complete, rounded and stylish piece of writing that uses on traditional event in the life of one town to tell human stories - of individuals, their community, their experiences, their history - and by doing so recreates an image of rural life and rural Australia that is deeply engaging. The appeal of the book is the author's literary style and his gentle, loving, sometimes humorous, but never patronising, portrayal of the participants, the community, and their lives over the past and recent present of the race.
The framework of the book allows exploration of the great themes of the Australian story: farming, mining and economic pressure; war and its effect on the Gift; religion (the clash of Easter and gambling); and Aboriginal rights.
John Perry is Associate Professor of Anthropology in the School of Social Inquiry at Deakin University. He is the author of Doing Fieldwork: Eight Personal Accounts of Social Research (Deakin University Press, 1989; UNSW Press 2002), Anthropology: Voices from the Margins (ed. with Jenny Hughes; Deakin University Press, 1995) and A Chief is a Chief by the People: The Autobiography of Stimela Jason Jingoes (compiled with Cassandra Perry; Oxford University Press, 1975).