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Review: In A Great Southern Land by Mary-Anne O’Connor

on May 9, 2019

In A Great Southern Land 
Mary-Ann O’Connor
Harlequin AUS
2019, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher/AM Publicity

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

From the soft green hills of Ireland to the wild Shipwreck Coast of southern Victoria, the rich farm lands of New South Wales to the sudden battlefields of Ballarat, this is an epic story of the cost of freedom and the value of love in a far-flung corner of the world where a nation sows its earliest seeds. 1851: After the death of her father, young Eve Richards is destitute. Her struggle to survive sees her deported in chains to the colony of New South Wales, penniless and alone. But here in this strange new world fortune smiles on the spirited, clever Eve in the shape of a respectable job offer that will lead to a quiet, secure life. Then the fiery and charismatic Irishman Kieran Clancy crosses her path…

For Kieran Clancy, the kindest man on earth, and his brother Liam, the promise of free passage and land in this brave new world is a chance to leave the grief and starvation of County Clare behind. But while Liam works to farm their land, Kieran has the fire of gold-fever upon him and is drawn to the goldfields of Ballarat. As tensions grow on the goldfields, and with the blood of an Irish rebel still beating through his heart, Kieran finds himself caught up in the cataclysmic events at the Eureka Stockade and faces the decision of a lifetime: whether or not, when it comes to love, blood will remain thicker than water…

I read quite a lot of historical fiction but honestly, not a lot of Australian historical fiction. Sometimes these days I find it a bit difficult to read accurate portrayals of early Australian history, especially concerning the local indigenous population and some of the things that occurred after the First Fleet arrived. But there are good stories to be found, and in order to deal with some of that messy past, I think you have to confront it, know about it and learn from it.

This book details with the migration of two individuals from Europe – one by choice and the other not so much. Kieran Clancy and his family have been working for another man in Ireland, owning nothing, breaking their backs for little reward for someone who doesn’t respect them or value the work they do. When they have a chance to migrate to the new country known as Australia, it’s with the knowledge that they will be given land to work as their very own. No more working for someone else, instead their hard work will see themselves rewarded. Kieran, his brother Liam, their sister, her husband and their two boys set sail for New South Wales although their departure is not without its final troubles.

On the other hand, Eve is basically deported as a criminal. When she arrives, she crosses paths with Kieran and his quick thinking puts in place a kinder future for Eve than what she might have experienced, had he not been there that day. Eve is granted a job where she knows she will be treated well, even if she might not actually be free. By chance, Kieran comes into her life again and their dream of a future together is troubled by the miners rising rebellion on the goldfields of Ballarat, which could threaten everything they have worked toward achieving.

There was a lot about this I really enjoyed – the history of Kieran and Eve, the lives they’d led and how they came to find themselves separately, in Australia. Eve’s situation in particular was a tragedy and probably reflected in the reality of many women who found themselves cast out to countries like Australia. It’s amazing that you could be sent halfway around the world to basically be an unpaid servant for the rest of your life unless your employer chose to grant you your freedom, for a misdemeanour or being a victim of circumstance or even being falsely accused of something or mistreated by an employer. Women had so little power during this time, poor people had so little power during this time. To be a woman and poor was probably the lowest of the low in terms of options available. Eve was naive, absolutely but she didn’t make a single mistake that a plethora of other vulnerable young women didn’t make.

I didn’t particularly get into the love story of Eve and Kieran, it just felt like it relied on a lot of coincidence and unlikely circumstance and it was a bit instantaneous. Kieran was very involved in the mining dispute and even though he tried not to be because it would threaten his chances with Eve, he’s also really very loyal and supportive of the cause and I think he wanted to provide the other men with support as well and hopefully also rein them in, in terms of things getting violent and out of control.  Essentially Kieran is a good man, I just would’ve liked the story to spend a bit more time developing their actual relationship, rather than everything else around that and rushing the relationship a little. I was really interested in the story of Kieran’s sister and her husband and what they experienced too, so I would’ve liked to see a little more on that.

Despite my reservations with that part of it, this is a very well told story, I just found the romance between Eve and Kieran the least interesting part and contained some of the most far-fetched aspects of it. It felt like a good portrayal of life during this time, struggling to make a home in a new and strange environment that could often be hostile compared to what English and Irish people were familiar with. I studied the Eureka Rebellion in school but many, many years ago now so it was interesting to touch on that too and experience that from some different perspectives.

Mary-Anne O’Connor always delivers an interesting story and this one is no exception.

7/10

Book #66 of 2019

In A Great Southern Land is book #31 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge


One response to “Review: In A Great Southern Land by Mary-Anne O’Connor

  1. […] In A Great Southern Land by Mary-Anne O’Connor. My review. […]

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