Author: Therese Creed
Arena RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
ISSUES surrounding succession on large-scale properties and foreign acquisition of land come to the fore in Therese Creed’s latest novel, Charlotte’s Creek. It’s a rural issue I’ve given little thought to before, but found fascinating as the implications of finding the right successor and planning ahead were gently explored within this sweet rural romance.
The issue comes to light indirectly when a young woman, Lucy Francis, lands a job working as a governess on a massive cattle property in North Queensland and discovers a family in crisis. As she takes on the education of four lively youngsters who’d much rather be running around on the property, she can’t help but notice the tension between her employers, Mel and Dennis, and Dennis’ parents, who also live on the property and retain overall ownership. Noel and Gwen, the parents, are keeping quiet on their succession plans – will they pass control to Dennis, their oldest son and their only child living and working on the property? Or will they sell up and split the proceeds between their children? And if they sell, will the land be acquired by foreign investors? As Dennis and his father butt heads over new ways to farm the property, and tension builds over the uncertainty of Charlotte Creek’s future, all relationships suffer.
Lucy throws herself into her job, winning the respect of the children, and catching the eye of a reserved stockman, Ted. Despite being confronted by challenges from day one, she is determined to step out of her comfort zone and give life a go in the outback. As a city girl, she has a lot to learn and indeed, some of the situations she encountered (such as unwanted kittens being drowned, frogs being killed with Dettol) would test many unused to these harsh “realities” of country living. However, just as her character develops and she discovers hidden strengths and capabilities, her soft and caring nature impacts on those around her.
On the romance front, expect a slow-building, sweet unfolding of feelings. Ted has reasons for being reserved (revealed about two-thirds through) and Lucy is from a sheltered Catholic background. If you’re expecting steamy bedroom romps, this is not for you – the characters share a couple of kisses, but that’s about it. I had no problem with it, because for me, Lucy’s reaction to the beautiful rural setting and issues was foremost. Perhaps the book would be better described as rural fiction, rather than rural romance. As for the setting, Creed really did justice to it – I’ve never been to North Queensland, but her descriptions of the wetlands and other areas made me want to see it for myself, not just through Lucy’s eyes. Creed achieved a good balance in measuring the beauty of the area with the difficulties life on the land brings, and her insight into working the land, including mustering and fencing made it all look like a pretty good adventure.
Other issues such as distance schooling and isolation also featured in this enjoyable read. I particularly enjoyed the interaction between Lucy and the children – these provided more than a giggle or two, as Lucy was constantly shocked by the children’s language, independence and knowledge of the property and its ways. My only niggles would be that the dialogue of the two four-year-olds, while amusing, seemed a little beyond their years and more suited to a six-year-old, perhaps, and a couple of times I noticed phrasing that didn’t sit right. These are small niggles though, because overall, I quite enjoyed Charlotte’s Creek – sweet and very Australian in tone, it provides worthy insight into some of the issues facing rural Australians without being too heavy-handed.
Available from good bookstores and Allen & Unwin. My copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin.
Bookish treat: I have a hankering for some country-style scones with jam and cream.