Penguin Books AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Nina Moore loves her local area with a passion. The beautiful Bunyip River and the marshlands on its banks are home to some rare and wonderful wildlife and she wants to preserve and protect it all. As her parent’s only child, she has taken over their farm and is slowly turning it organic and away from some of the more harsher farming techniques and produce. But her real dream is to purchase Billabong Bend, a nearby property that has fallen into some disrepair since one of the owners died and the other went into hospital. Billabong Bend is a wildlife corridor and Nina would love to see it carefully managed so that it may flourish. However she knows that others have their eye on the property too, albeit for much different reasons to hers.
When her childhood sweetheart Ric Bonelli returns to the local area, it complicates Nina’s life. She and Ric haven’t seen each other since they were fourteen, meeting down by the river for stolen moments. Their fathers have been bitter enemies for a long time and Nina doesn’t care for the way Ric’s cotton farming father works the land. It’s in direct opposition to how she believes the area should be treated. Ric disappeared to Italy when his mother left his father but now he’s back – and with his young daughter in tow. It doesn’t take long for old feelings to rekindle, despite the fact that their families complicate things dramatically and that Nina is in a long-term relationship. Nina can see a future for herself, Ric and Ric’s daughter on the river, caring for the land and seeing the birds and wildlife flourish.
But then a tragic disappearance has Nina and Ric on opposite sides as they struggle to figure out what has happened. When Nina finds out that she may lose her beloved Billabong Bend to the one thing she cannot bear to see happen to it, cotton farming, she blames Ric for the betrayal. But has he jeopardised everything? Or can they put everything aside for one more chance at becoming a family and finding a sustainable and gentle way to work together?
Billabong Bend is the third novel from Jennifer Scoullar that I have read – they’re rural romances in a way but there’s a much deeper underlying message in each one. The author is quite clearly very passionate about the environment and conservation issues and this shines through in her work. In this novel set in northern New South Wales, most of the properties are close to a rare marshland flanking a river. Droughts and unsustainable farming as well as growing crops not entirely suited to the area (such as cotton) have led to problems with the water supply and farmers stooping so low as to “steal” more than their fair share of water. Nina is a ‘modern’ type of farmer – she’s passionate about the environment and protecting it and she puts it first, not the potential yield and money. She’s been switching to organic products and she’s keen to try new ventures such as pressing her own oil with a local co-op. She has dreams for what she can do with Billabong Bend and she’s been trying for years to get the evidence she needs of rare birds nesting there to prevent it from being destroyed.
I really enjoyed learning about the wildlife and Nina’s passion and enthusiasm was incredibly well portrayed, however the romantic aspect of this novel did fall a little flat for me. They haven’t seen each other in a long time and were only fourteen the last time they saw each other. I’d have liked more time with them getting to know each other and reestablishing that teenage connection and less time spent arguing and Nina flouncing off every time Ric did something she didn’t like or his father did something that she didn’t like. I understand that she’s passionate and that she feels very strongly about the environment but Ric had only just returned to the local area to reconnect with his father and introduce his father to his granddaughter. Punishing Ric for his father’s crimes and what his father was doing seemed very pointless to me and there was a bit of push-pull in the latter half of the novel where Nina feels betrayed and like it’s over or she never wants to see him again and then in the next chapter, they’re talking. I liked Nina, I liked Ric and I liked Ric’s headstrong daughter Sophie, who I think reacted to her situation the way most kids would… I especially liked the way that story line fully played out. However I definitely think that Nina and Ric’s relationship, so to speak, needed more work. For instance, Nina is actually in a relationship when Ric returns and it takes rather a long time for that to run its course and her boyfriend Lockie is a little inconsistent, character wise. He’s kind of an ass but then he’s not and then he is again but then he isn’t. It’s never quite explained why they’re in this relationship when both of them appear to be getting absolutely nothing out of it and they hardly even see each other.
As I mentioned, the conservation message is strong in this and that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I quite enjoyed that aspect of it, I think it taught me quite a lot. I’m a coastal girl, I don’t know much about farming and the different types and what sort of farming requires what sort of watering, etc. And I loved Nina – she’s a kick ass kind of girl, she’s not afraid to stand up for what she believes in and the scene where she runs off poachers/shooters in the beginning of the book is fabulous. I loved her bond with Sophie and how she takes the little girl under her wing in a way and attempts to give her some stability and some things to be excited about in her new life, which is not working out exactly the way Sophie planned. A little more devoted to the romance and this would’ve been a perfect read for me.
Book #107 of 2014
Billabong Bend is the 38th novel read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014