The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoades is the gripping story of a young woman’s fight against discrimination regarding race, relationships and female competence, from the author of the bestselling The Woolgrower’s Companion.
The narrative is set in Amiens, NSW, in 1948 on a 30,000 acre sheep station with 7,000 head of sheep.
After the death of her father, Kate Dowd, age 25, is determined to run the station herself, despite aggravation from her neighbour, John Fleming, who also raises sheep and thinks himself her superior.
Her abusive husband, Jack, left three years ago to work on the islands, but is now demanding she sell the farm to recompense him. But the farm is all she has to protect her half-sister, Pearl, age 2, from the threats of the Aborigines Welfare Board to remove Pearl and place her with a white family.
She is also fighting to keep Harry, 13, from being taken away by his Great Uncle, Keith Grimes, who now works for Fleming.
Snubbed by the locals and looked down upon by society, she must avoid any impropriety and avoid her former wartime lover, Luca Canali.
Pressurised from all sides, she now faces a natural catastrophe as the grasslands dry and threaten to burn.
Can Kate, her family and workers all survive?
This book perfectly portrays post-war Australia when women first began their struggle to prove themselves capable of earning a living and of making important decisions without the aid of a husband. It also raises the issues of a time when the Aborigines Welfare Board (1940-1969) removed children from their mothers and insisted they should be raised by white families. Also, from the late 1800s until the 1970s Aboriginal workers were for all intents and purposes enslaved. Their wages were ‘administered’ for them by government or police authorities and have yet to be paid to those who earned them.
Each chapter begins with a quote from “The Woolgrower’s Companion” which is relevant to the narrative therein. There are also some wonderful recipes at the back of the book from Joy’s Family favourites and from the 1941 edition of the “Country Women’s Association Cookbook”.
This is a well told narrative of the fight for equality and justice. It also elucidates the reality of farming in a time of drought when stock is weakened by lack of water and feed and lost to subsequent bushfires. These issues are all still relevant today. The current drought and bushfires are of particular concern in NSW at the moment.
A powerful and gripping novel that will stir emotions of both joy and sorrow to the very end.
A must-read for 2019.
Publisher: Penguin Random House
The Burnt Country is available in paperback, e-book and audiobook
About Joy Rhoades
Joy Rhoades was born in Roma in western Queensland, with an early memory of flat country and a broad sky. Growing up, she loved two things best – reading and the bush, whether playing in creek beds and paddocks, or climbing a tree to sit with a book. Her family would visit her grandmother, a fifth-generation grazier, and a gentle teller of stories of her life on her family’s sheep farm.
At 13, Joy left Roma for Brisbane, first for school, and then to study law at university. After graduating, she worked all over the world, first in Sydney, then London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and New York. It was in New York that she completed a Masters in Creative Writing at the New School University, and wrote much of her first book, The Woolgrower’s Companion, a novel inspired in part by snippets of her grandmother’s life and times.
She now lives in London with her husband and their two young children, but she misses the Australian sky.