Genre: historical fiction
Re-read: at least 30 times.
The daughter of a Newcastle coalminer, Hallie Thomas moves to Australia where she struggles to make a life for herself amid the beautiful purple mountains and eucalyptus trees of New South Wales.
This is one of my all time favourite books, and I have read it (in Dutch) so many times I lost count. And the rare thing is, even my mother and sisters enjoyed it and they do not share my taste in books.
The book is about Hallie Thomas, the young daughter of a coal miner, who is destined to marry a coalminer herself, and have the same dreary life as her mother and siblings. But instead, a young man she met only once, the younger son of the owner of the mine her father and brother work in, has asked her by letter delivered by their priest, to marry him and come to Australia, where he is living.
Hallie doesn't hesitate, and of she goes, on a 9 month journey by ship to the other side of the world. Chad is waiting for her, he really needs a wife who knows how to work hard and is not afraid of a hard life, like a woman of his own class would be. It doesn't hurt that Hallie is pretty either. Chad has big dreams: he wants to become the biggest sheep rancher, and breed the best race he can, own a large farm and start a dynasty with the children that Hallie will give him. His employees are prisoners, sent from England to long years of hard labor, often for only minor crimes. They won't have much, but it will be more than they ever had in England, and at least the weather is good and the environment is gorgeous, and they will be fed three times a day and have their own bed in the barak.
Hallie is to cook for them, and care for the garden, and any lambs that need hand feeding, as well as cleaning the house and kitchen, doing laundry and everything.
But she loves it all, and has no regrets of coming all this way to be with a stranger. Chad doesn't share much with Hallie, like the fact that he is going back to England for a few years, to create a market for their wool, and to tend to their ailing fathers. And so it is up to Hallie to tend to the farm and make all the decisions, especially when their foreman, whom Chad depended upon, is killed by an escaped prisoner. Lucky for Hallie, one of the women she met on the ship finds her, and she takes over all of Hallies duties in the kitchen and the house, so Hallie can do her husbands job.
And so, while Chad stays away longer and longer, she builds his dream out beyond his wildest expectations. The governor of the colony and the local banker, who are friends of Chads' support her in her decisions, otherwise she could never have done anything. So when he finally comes back, and he takes Hallie's injured brother Dannie and his wife and children, and her mother with him, she doesn’t know how to react. She doesn’t love him anymore, she is in love with Tristan, the local doctor, and she just might be pregnant…
How could she explain Beth to him?
And Chad doesn't know what he sees either. The town is his? The school, the store, the mill? He employes a shepard, owns a vineyard, and more sheep and acres of land than he has ever dared to dream about? His own dreams, succeeded by a woman? What is he to do? But then a dangerous sickness attacks his sheep, and he is the only one who knows what is to be done to fight it. But Hallie will fight alongside with him, she won't be relegated back to the household… But can Chad deal with a wife like that, now that he is there to take over again?
I absolutely adore this book. The descriptions of the pristine country that was just discovered and is being developed take my breath away, and I so want to visit someday. But the main focus in the book is Hallie, and I love how she grows from a young girl to a confident woman, who runs the largest farm in the country, who learns everything that she needs to know, and goes to school with her own children to learn to read and write and do numbers.
And ever years after her husband is back, she is still fighting. For other women this time, those who are arriving on the ships every week, and are taken home by men to be used, who don't want to marry them, or pay them. She is determined to give them a better chance in life, to find them gainful employment, or husbands.
I absolutely admire her, and I love her journey, and her growth. Especially in that time period. The book is loosely based on a real character.
If you have never read a Barbara Bickmore book, I strongly urge you to try one. Her books are compelling, set in all different kinds of countries, from Africa and the dreadful disease of lepra, to Asia, and the forbidden love between a white woman and a Chinese man, to the flying doctors of Australia or a love story set in America. I do love them all, but this one the most. Yes, they are older, but really not dated at all.
© 2015 Reviews by Aurian