The Burnt Country

Written by Joy Rhoades
Review by Marina Maxwell

(Please note this is a sequel and this review contains unavoidable spoilers from the first in the series, The Woolgrower’s Companion.)

Kate Dowd runs Amiens, a sheep station in New South Wales, on her own. She is separated from her husband, Jack, while her former lover, Luca, has been pushed aside as she struggles with predicaments from all directions. The local community, already scandalised by earlier happenings in the Dowd family, is aligned against her.

A dangerous bushfire season looms, and Kate burns off part of her land to make firebreaks. This does not go down well with a neighbour who refuses to pay her for some stock. The Aboriginal servant, Daisy, and her little daughter, Pearl, are at the mercy of the Aborigines Welfare Board and are due to be forcibly separated. Young Harry, great-nephew of former manager, Grimes, must also leave Amiens against his will. Jack attempts to extort a huge sum from Kate in order to grant her a divorce. When a major bushfire does break out and two people die, Kate is tested to her limits in the resulting inquest.

For the most part this is an engaging read with interesting characters, most of them already familiar to readers of the earlier book, but it has drawbacks with just too many threads of crisis. The bushfire description is riveting, but the romantic component is low-key, and Kate’s hesitancy and subjection against the sexism and bigotry of the 1940s that was convincing in the earlier book now tends to feel overplayed.

Everything is resolved satisfactorily (with a contrived twist), but after all Kate has been through, she still seems too nice for a woman toughened by prejudice and adversity. It is hoped that she will mature and gain greater assertiveness in the next chapter in this saga.