Two of David Foster’s previous books, Dog Rock and The Pale Blue Crochet Coathanger, feature the eccentric postman D’Arcy D’Olivieres, a great and memorable creation, and one who makes a welcome return to Foster’s fiction in The Glade Within The Grove. Now the retired postman of Dog Rock, D’Arcy recalls a time when he was a fill-in postman at a small town called Obligna Creek. There he discovers an unpublished manuscript in an old mailbag – The Ballad of Erinungarah, written by ‘Orion’. As D’Arcy himself says, ‘Weird piece of work. Back then, 1990, I’m not sure I understood the implications. But I have thought about little else since.’
D’Arcy becomes obsessed by the Ballad and the events it describes, and writes The Glade Within The Grove as a gloss on the Ballad, and investigation of events that happened nearly thirty years ago: namely the establishment of a commune in the late 60s, deep in the forest country of the Far South Coast, somewhere near the NSW/Victorian border. The valley is a paradise, populated sparsely by isolated logging and rural families. It is literally stumbled upon by a famous 60s rock guitarist, Michael Ginnsy, who loses his dog in the valley, goes in to find him, is taken under the wing of two old hippies, Phryx and Gwen, who show him the way out of the inaccessible and impenetrable valley. Returning to Sydney, he can’t stop talking about this idyllic place, and is eventually persuaded by a motley group of people at a wake for Martin Luther King to let them join him and attempt to find the valley. So they set off in the Kombi: hippies, a former pin-up girl, a drug dealer, junkies, rich kids looking for excitement, a Marxist. In the days of the anti-Vietnam movement, this disparate group are all variously pursuing alternative lives, so a commune is the obvious answer when they literally stumble (again) upon the valley paradise.
The link between country and city is forged when Attis, a foundling looked after by the logging family, and Diane, the youngest, feistiest and most radical of the city group, meet at a rodeo and instantly fall in love. Then they find abandoned the hut where the old hippies Phryx and Gwen lived, and discover they were killed by a lone anti-logging terrorist, who has found a Sacred Grove of 1000 year old cedars deep in the valley, and is trying to protect them from the outside world. Newcomers and suspicious old-timers must work together to save paradise from the madman.