Billabungs, bunyips and a model motley crew. On the advice of the far-spitting swagman, thirteen-year-old Shawn leaves his mother and (cruel) stepfather for life on the Murray River. Captain Elijah Wilson has a hard heart with a soft spot, the others have just nominal characters; Prayin' Jack, Silent Sam, Lord Eric, Charlee the Chinese cook. Riverboats are going under because of the growing railroad industry and these blokes don't have the literary steam to make it round the first hackneyed bend. Shawn is rescued from drowning by a persistent tomboy who blackmails him into writing; it's just as well--otherwise, he'd have no place to go when the ship burns down. False gaiety, affected intimacy, half a step for'ard, one half aft.