The Woolgrower’s Companion by Joy Rhoades
Australia 1945. Until now Kate Dowd has led a sheltered life on her family’s sprawling sheep station but, with her father’s health in decline, the management of the farm is increasingly falling to her.
Kate is rising to the challenge when the arrival of two Italian POW labourers disrupts everything – especially when Kate finds herself drawn to the enigmatic Luca Canali.
Then she receives devastating news. The farm is near bankrupt and the bank is set to repossess. Given just eight weeks to pay the debt, Kate is now in a race to save everything she holds dear.
The Woolgrower’s Companion is without a shadow of a doubt an atmospheric saga novel. It brings alive in the mind, the era and outback of New South Wales, Australia. I really enjoyed the time I spend with Kate, during reading and the various themes which offered an insight into 1940s Australia.
The novel opens at Longhope railway station on 10th January 1945. Kate along with her father Ralph awaits the arrival of two POW’s from North Africa. We become aware these are not only POW’s but were previously fighting Australian soldiers. The situation is quite tense; and we become aware that the family is unsure what it has entered into.
But they require extra hands at the farm as labourers.
Kate is married but her husband Jack is away training soldiers for war at Kogarah. Kate comes across as quite a rigid character at first. It is only when things begin to get tough, we start to see the woman inside.
The POW’s Sgt Luca Canali and Private Vittorio Bottinella, are extremely young. They claim to be conscripted soldiers and therefore at war through no choice of their own.
It is unsure at first, if this is really true.
Harry Grimes is the nephew of ranch hand Keith Grimes. He is an unusual character, that truly brightens up the pages. He is an orphaned child and his conversation comprises of various questions and lots of swearing.
There are moments that I found him quite hilarious, to listen to.
At the ranch is domestic servant Daisy, who is just 14yrs of age. Daisy is an aboriginal and the theme and role of aboriginals in Australian society is fully explored. The race relations are fraught, to say the least. I have never come across aboriginals in ww2 fiction and it was a welcome addition of diversity.
Even if the racism and tension is unsettling.
At the ranch bills remain unpaid, Kate finds she must not only work on the ranch but actively take over the management or face financial ruin. Her father continues to grow more confused and Kate wonders what their future will hold. She writes to her husband Jack, in hope of financial and emotional support.
She receives neither and Kate is left feeling truly alone.
When Kate is served with an eviction notice, her sheer determination and grit is released. Not losing the ranch becomes her primary focus in life. Unbeknown to Kate, this means she fails to notice other situations occurring at the ranch.
The novel is slow burning and the characters grow on you over time. There are not only book club questions at the back of the novel but a series of recipes too.
Kate’s personal journey in The Woolgrower’s Companion, sets up beautifully for a series and I look forward to returning to the ranch in the future. 4*
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