Author: Jennifer Scoullar
Michael Joseph RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Jennifer Scoullar has delivered another standout book with Billabong Bend, her latest foray into rural romance. Yet, while it is undeniably a romance, it is even more so a platform for delivering a message important to her – the need to be stewards of the environment, not just users (or abusers). Scoullar’s love of the land and desire to take care of it is the driving force behind this novel, providing key conflict for her protagonists, as well as delivering stunning descriptions of the flora and fauna of wetland/riverlands of NSW, Australia.
Scoullar’s message is crafted around the story of Nina and Ric, childhood sweethearts reunited after many years apart. Nina is a floodplains grazier who dreams of buying the neighbouring Billabong Bend and conserve the wetlands; Ric’s father, Max, is a traditional cotton farmer who also has designs on the property, though conservation is not on his agenda. When Ric has to take over the reins of his father’s farm, the lovers’ values and dreams are set on an emotional collision course.
Talk about an impossible conflict … it’s beautifully set up and the clear chemistry between Nina and Ric makes it all the more powerful. The romantic elements of Billabong Bend were strong and convincing as the conflict, to the point where I wondered how Scoullar would be able to keep the lovers together despite desperately wanting them to come to some common ground. It was enough to keep me turning pages, that’s for sure. I loved Nina’s character, but particularly felt for Ric, who found himself in a “sink or swim” situation in more ways than one; as the reader, I had the benefit of knowing how much he was struggling, unlike Nina, who was a little more black and white. In the end, my conviction that he was man of integrity was justified to the full.
While I enjoyed the romantic aspect, my heart was won even more so by Scoullar’s passion for this beautiful country. I had a similar feeling when I read Currawong Creek; as someone who lives in a suburb created by clear felling, I appreciated Scoullar’s widespread call to accountability. Yes, there’s a message to people living on the land, but the concepts of sustainability, conservation, preservation and moderation extend beyond agriculture to all of us, no matter where we live – it’s a collective responsibility. All of this could have come across as preaching, and indeed, some may feel that the message, not the romance, stole the show; I didn’t feel preached at, just inspired.
Generous, visual and emotive, Billabong Bend is a love story for Australia inasmuch as it is a sassy romance between two people with more than a few obstacles to overcome. Jennifer Scoullar may have had to wait years to write, but for us readers, it was well worth the wait.
Available from good bookstores and Penguin Books Australia. My copy was courtesy of Penguin.