The Homestead Girls
Penguin Books AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher
When Dr Billie Green’s teenage daughter Mia falls in with a bad crowd, Billie uses that as an opportunity to return to the small town in far western New South Wales where she grew up. It’s been a goal of Billie’s to work for the Flying Doctor Service and she’s spent time in her career doing rotations and earning qualifications that will serve her well in the remote locations. She’s happy to meet her colleagues, including the lovely but insecure flight nurse Daphne Price and their authoritarian boss Dr Morgan Blake.
Soretta Byrnes has benefited from the Flying Doctor Service after her grandfather was severely injured on their farm. But with him in hospital, Soretta is struggling more than ever to make ends meet when the drought just won’t quit. Although Daphne has supported Soretta as a friend, she decides that she’d like to do more. The homestead on Soretta’s property is huge – old and beautiful and with plenty of room. Daphne, Billie and Mia soon move out to the property as paying boarders, an arrangement which suits everyone. Billie and Daphne want a home and Soretta is grateful for the financial contribution. Teenage Mia is resentful at first…until she realises how much she can help by looking after the animals on the farm. They are soon joined by Lorna Lamerton, an eighty year old former bush nurse looking for a holiday from her son and his wife.
It isn’t long before the women overcome their awkwardness and begin to form strong friendships and attachments. The situation is working out better than any of them could have planned and there’s always someone on hand for advice on medical issues and even the odd romantic challenge. However it’s not until one of the women faces a threat to their life that they show just well they can band together.
Australian rural romance author Fiona McArthur’s latest book invites readers to far west New South Wales and introduces them to a small town which hosts a branch of the Flying Doctor Service. Dr Billie Green has just moved back to the town, which is also where she grew up and is fulfilling a dream working for the FDS. Billie has lived a life moving around, gaining qualifications but not possessions. She and teenage daughter Mia live out of a couple of suitcases and a box full of kitchen necessities.
In no time at all, Billie’s colleague Daphne has organised for herself, Billie and Billie’s daughter Mia to move from their duplex accommodation out to a beautiful old homestead some ten minutes out of town. There the women begin to become friends, settling into roles and working together. Even Mia, resentful at first being made to move out west and then away from town and to the farm, begins to prove her worth. She’s given the job of feeding the lambs and Soretta is no nonsense when it comes to any teenage attitude. Mia is told in no uncertain terms she must be responsible or else – the lambs could die if she ‘can’t be bothered’. Through being given this responsibility and trust, Mia begins to mature and grow, coming to appreciate her surroundings and the role she is developing. I really liked Mia and I think McArthur was quite understated in portraying her character as the disgruntled teen. Mia had moved around a lot and even though she resented having to move out to the homestead, yet another move, it seemed almost immediately that it would be different. This was a place where roots could be put down, where Mia could be given a role, even get a pet in the future. All she needed was a little bit of security and some faith, both in herself and from others in her and she began to really blossom which was good to read.
There’s a huge amount in this story about the role of the FDS and it’s fantastic to read. I’ve lived all my life on the coast, never been further west than Dubbo (and that was only to visit the zoo) so it’s super interesting to read about how the FDS works and the sort of incidents they deal with. There’s a wide range of medical emergencies they might encounter as well as geographic difficulties like finding the landing strip that’s the closest to the person that needs attention. I didn’t know about the oxygen issues with so much time spent in the plane in the beginning either so all of those little tidbits were great info. Although most of the population in Australia does live along the coastlines there are still plenty of remote communities and properties that benefit from this service and the amazing people who campaign to fund it.
Whilst there is a little romance in The Homestead Girls it is really quite subtle. Both Daphne and Billie are struggling with workplace attractions and I really enjoyed reading about Daphne getting some of her self-confidence back and hopefully beginning to put her past behind her and those that had made her feel so bad about herself. I’d have liked a little more romantic interaction for Billie but the focus is really on the women building those friendships and strengthening them at the homestead, as well as the role of the FDS. The women are all well constructed, with insecurities and flaws and made stronger by the growing friendship. I would love it if we saw Soretta and Mia again in the future, I’d love to know what the years to come hold for them.
A really enjoyable and heartwarming story from a must-read author.
Book #112 of 2015
The Homestead Girls is book #46 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015
Make sure you check out Fiona McArthur’s guest post on the blog, talking more about the FDS.