Kate Dowd’s mother raised her to be a lady but she must put away her white gloves and pearls to help save her family’s sheep farm in New South Wales.
It is 1945, the war drags bitterly on and it feels like the rains will never come again. All the local, able-bodied young men, including the husband Kate barely knows, have enlisted and Kate’s father is struggling with his debts and his wounds from the Great War. He borrows recklessly from the bank and enlists two Italian prisoners of war to live and work on the station.
With their own scars and their defiance, the POWs Luca and Vittorio offer an apparent threat to Kate and Daisy, the family’s young Aboriginal maid. But danger comes from surprising corners and Kate finds herself more drawn to Luca than afraid of him.
Scorned bank managers, snobbish neighbours and distant husbands expect Kate to fail and give up her home but over the course of a dry, desperate year she finds within herself reserves of strength and rebellion that she could never have expected.
The Woolgrower’s Companion is the gripping story of one woman’s fight to save her home and a passionate tribute to Australia’s landscape and its people.
I read this fantastic read lying in the hot sun in my garden last week and the soaring temperature almost made me feel like I was ‘down under’ in the Australian outback for the day… All I needed was a few ‘tinnies’ and I definitely feel like I was reading it on location.
The Woolgrower’s Companion is a fascinating and immersive read, describing the harsh and brutal reality of running a farm, beset by financial hardship and the complexities of the gender, cultural and racial divide and how it impinges upon the lives of the people whose lives are thrown together on the Dowd farm and how their trajectories criss-cross as circumstances conspire against Kate and her companions . It is a time period that I didn’t really know that much about and I love this kind of novel, where I finish it and end up on Google for hours, researching all of the events in the book and looking at maps and photos of the real settings and events that have been portrayed in its pages.
Rhoades’ novel begins as the war is ending and Kate is beginning to realise that her struggles are far from over. The battles that she’ll have to fight are as gruelling as many of the men on the front and little does she know what fate will throw at her as her whole world changes beyond all recognition. I loved the character of Kate and I found it easy to connect with her grit and determination as she battles to overcome the many obstacles that she has to endure.
If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I really love a novel where you get involved with the experiences and feelings of more than one character. I think that Rhoades is equally skilled at portraying the characters of Kate, the Italian Prisoners of War Lucca and Vittorio and her young aboriginal maid, Daisy – the vivid writing means that all of these characters engage the reader and they spring to life off the page. Rhoades paints a vivid portrait of their struggles to survive in a dangerous and unpredictable time in history. I hate including spoilers so all I’ll say is that Kate’s determination makes her stand out, in a historical period where women trying to assert themselves is definitely a risky proposition and there are several tense moments when your heart will definitely be in your mouth.
Kate’s life of ease and privilege before the war has ill-prepared her for the privations that she has to endure once every penny has to count – however, she refuses to let the difficulties that she has to endure to harden or coarsen her and she remains a sensitive and compassionate character throughout this novel. I loved the way that there was an excerpt from the real Woolgrowers Companion right the way through this novel and the way that connected with Kate’s experiences provided me with much food for thought as I was turning the pages.
The way that Joy Rhoades brings Kate’s situation so vividly to life on the page made me totally lose myself in this fantastic read. I couldn’t tear myself away from the suffering that she had to endure and even though Rhoades pulls no punches in her description of the way that Daisy is treated is both moving and disturbing as she opens your eyes to an aspect of Australian history that you might not know very much about. This lends The Woolgrower’s Companion an added poignancy and made me remember that even though this is a novel, the stories it tells were very much a reality for thousands of Aboriginal women who found themselves trapped in a situation that they were powerless to do anything about.
If you love a historical read that brings moral dilemmas vividly to life and enjoy being totally immersed in a powerful and vivid narrative then you’ll love The Woolgrower’s Companion. It’s a powerful story and I found myself quite emotional as it drew to a close, knowing as I did that even though Kate,
Lucca and Daisy were fictional characters, they really lived for me whilst I was lost in the book. I will definitely look out for more from Joy Rhoades as the balance of historical detail, wonderful characterisation and emotional punch was a winning combination for me.
I would like to thank Sian Devine for inviting me to participate in the blog tour – I am a huge Thorn Birds fanatic and have already bought this for several friends as an essential holiday read. – I’ll definitely be looking out for the other blog posts to see what my fellow bloggers thought of this emotional and memorable tale.
Writer on the Shelf
Joy Rhoades was born in a small town in the bush in Queensland, Australia, with an early memory of flat country and a broad sky. Growing up, she loved two things best: reading and the bush, often 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 for Brisbane, first for school and then to study law at university. After graduating, she worked all over the world as a lawyer. It was in New York that she completed a master’s degree in Creative Writing at the New School University, and the people, the history, and the landscape of her childhood led her to start writing The Woolgrower’s Companion.
She now lives in London with her French husband and their two young children, but she misses the Australian sky.