Cloudstreet – Synopsis 1940s – 1960s:
It’s late afternoon on the Margaret River. The Lamb family are catching prawns for their dinner. In the twilight, Samson (Fish) Lamb, the favourite child of the family, goes missing and is eventually dragged unresponsive from the water. In a ‘miracle’, his mother, Oriel, revives him, but not all of Fish Lamb has come back from the dead and the family is never the same again.
Sam Pickles loses most of his right hand in an accident with a boat winch. Rose, his daughter is the only member of his family who cares. Sam is not sure how he will get a job. In a stoke of ‘luck’, his cousin dies, leaving Sam two hundred pounds and ownership of a boarded-up house at No 1 Cloud Street, Perth. Upon arrival at ‘Cloudstreet’, the Pickles family decide they hate it but Sam decides to rent out half the house, much to his wife Dolly’s disgust.
The Lamb family have had their farm sold out from under them, so they pack their bags and head to Perth. They rent the other half of Cloudstreet from the Pickles. They hate the house too, but they are industrious and turn the front room of the house into a shop. The Pickles couldn’t be happier as they have little income and what they do make, Sam and Dolly waste on gambling and booze.
In Cloudstreet’s past, Aboriginal girls who lodged there were forced into becoming ladies’ maids. Their ill treatment and demise have trapped their spirits in the house. Bob Crab, a ‘magic man’, has been trying for years to release these girls’ spirits. This can only happen when love and new life is brought back to Cloudstreet.
Fish lamb has never recovered from his near drowning experience and is unable to ‘see’ his mother, but is fixated on returning to ‘the water’. He is also the only person in Cloudstreet who can see the Spirit Girls or Bob Crab. His brother Quick suffers survivor guilt, truly feeling that it should have been him who drowned and not Fish. The family’s misery turns Oriel into fortress of suppressed rage and Quick becomes Fish’s main carer for many years.
Rose Pickles despises Dolly, who is a neglectful mother, a drunk, and often found in the arms of other men. She loves her father but has little respect for him as he lets Dolly walk all over him.
Lester and Sam eventually strike up an unlikely friendship and become good mates. Lester helps Sam out of some sticky spots due to his gambling and they bond through a drunken day at the races. The other members of the families take years to find meeting points, although, Rose has a very soft spot for Fish.
During a family visit to Fremantle, Lester buys a boat and, much to Oriel’s displeasure, gets Quick and Fish to row it many kilometres up river back to Cloudstreet.
Oriel ends up so broken by Fish’s demise and the stupidity of Lester sending the boys off in the boat that she moves into a tent in the backyard. Quick reaches breaking point and runs away from home to go bush, leaving the family in turmoil.
The family has grown a little older. Hattie Lamb is to be married. Rose finds herself a job at the department store Baird’s and a boyfriend in the urbane and sophisticated, wannabe poet Toby Raven. Quick has been away for two years, shooting kangaroos in the outback, but is severely injured when attacked by an injured male roo. Bob Crab visits Quick and helps him return to Cloudstreet. Toby and Rose have a relationship for twelve months, but it is clear that they are very different people. Rose has tried to hide her family circumstances from Toby, out of shame, but he surprises her with a visit to Cloudstreet. Toby invites Rose to attend the State Poetry Prize awards, for which he is shortlisted. He doesn’t win, and in his drunken self-pity, he publicly humiliates Rose. Rose runs in tears to the river, where she is spotted by Quick and Fish, who are out in the boat. Rose and Quick finally discover each other after years of passing each other in the hall in Cloudstreet.
Oriel reveals the reason for her inner strength and fortitude, being, as a child, the only member of her family to survive a bushfire. She shares an awkward moment of truth with Quick.
In the meantime, Sam is on the run from the union boss, to whom he owes a lot of money. Lester steps in and offers to pay off his debts to keep the union enforcers away from Cloudstreet, but Sam has other ideas and drags Lester off to gamble the money on a two-up fame, in which he breaks the bank and wins a small fortune. The ‘shifty shadow’ of luck is finally beginning to change for the better.
Rose finally learns her mother’s family secret which brings healing and understanding to their relationship, and brings Sam and Dolly back together. Quick and Rose marry and move out to the suburbs of Perth. Rose gets pregnant and she and Quick begin to wonder if leading an ‘ordinary life’ is what they really want. With a baby on the way for Rose and Quick, Bob Crab appears and beckons them back to Cloudstreet so that new life can bring love to the house. Fish, who has been living with Rose and Quick, realises that he needs to go, and that he must return to the water since he nearly drowned as a child. Rose and Quick return to Cloudstreet and the Spirit Girls are finally released from the house. The two families head to the river to celebrate the return of Rose and Quick. Fish knows his time has come and while the families are distracted, he returns to the water and for one brief instant, returns to his true self before his soul floats on the river out to the sea.