There is good reason for believing that the Australian coastline region north from Newcastle to Brisbane is one of the choicest parts of the earth, indeed in a good season a Garden of Eden…. David Malouf in Fly Away Peter [published in the United States as The Bread of Time to Come] has … made one part of it his own. The South Coast of Queensland (or, as it is now known, the Gold Coast) is created in his novel of pre-World War I days as if it is a Paradise before the Fall, a world of harmony between nature and human nature. There is even an Adam and Eve. (p. 113)
The moment when [Jim Saddler and Imogen Harcourt] meet is a fine one. It is by accident. Separately, they each are observing a sandpiper, and when the photo is developed their pleasure is caught by the novel as a moment of suspension of the centrally achieved interest of the book…. The openness of two people—their love of nature—is richly present. It is a poetic triumph for Malouf to have found this kind of stasis and sharing. The maturity in the characters is a measure of yet another advance in his gifts as a writer.
Fly Away Peter, however, does not rest there. It attempts to move out from this centre and frame this Paradise with its Fall. Jim Saddler goes to World War I and dies there. His is no migratory pattern or cycle. Nor was Imogen's, who had come from England and settled eccentrically in Australia. Only Ashley Crowther follows the pattern of the birds in coming home from England to his property, then in going to the War and returning. The two patterns—bird and human—are held up for inspection and comparison. It is as if the myth in the birds' cycle is the superior one. A sadness envelopes the human Fall. Even Imogen's closing vision of a surfboard rider off Southport as if it were some eternal resurgence of youth does not dispel the irony. It has daunting associations for the reader with what the South (Gold) Coast has since become. Who there now thinks of sandpipers?