The Woolgrower’s Companion

Written by Joy Rhoades
Review by Marina Maxwell

Kate Dowd and her father, Ralph, wait on the railway platform to collect two Italian prisoners of war who have been assigned to work at Amiens, their farm in northern New South Wales. Kate is startled by her reaction to one of the men, Luca, sensing he might be a threat to her emotional well-being.

Ralph displays increasingly erratic behavior—echoes of trauma from the Great War—and he has extended the drought-ravaged farm’s mortgage and overdraft to breaking point. When the bank manager tells Kate they will soon foreclose, that she must pack up and leave within weeks, she is devastated. With an incapacitated father and no help from her husband, Jack, who is away on army service, Kate is forced to find her own way to save Amiens.

The descriptions of life on a 1940s Australian sheep station are authentic, as are all the characters that inhabit this often confronting landscape. Although a little naïve and rather too quick to make assumptions, Kate does accurately reflect a woman of her era who had been raised to be reliant on men and has to learn to assert herself. Just when she thinks her problems are solved, there are new shocks, and she must extend her courage even further to include responsibility for the young Aboriginal maid, Daisy, as well as risk her heart with Luca. The conclusion has a bittersweet quality that may make you a little teary eyed, so if you need comfort food just check out the famous Country Women’s Association recipes provided in the end notes.

This subtle and perceptive debut novel by Joy Rhoades was inspired in part by her own grandmother’s experiences on a farm during WW2. Its honesty and truth shine through on every page, and it deserves the highest recommendation.