In 1978 the Northern Territory has begun to self-govern. Cyclone Tracy is a recent memory and telephones not yet a fixture on the cattle stations dominating the rugged outback. Life is hard and people are isolated. But they find ways to connect.
.Sybil is the matriarch of Fairvale Station, run by her husband, Joe. Their eldest son, Lachlan, was Joe’s designated successor but he has left the Territory – for good. It is up to their second son, Ben, to take his brother’s place. But that doesn’t stop Sybil grieving the absence of her child. With her oldest friend, Rita, now living in Alice Springs and working for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and Ben’s English wife, Kate, finding it difficult to adjust to life at Fairvale, Sybil comes up with a way to give them all companionship and purpose: they all love to read, and she forms a book club.
Mother-of-three Sallyanne is invited to join them. Sallyanne dreams of a life far removed from the dusty town of Katherine where she lives with her difficult husband, Mick. Completing the group is Della, who left Texas for Australia looking for adventure and work on the land.
The words book club might have drawn me to The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club, and that part of it lived up to its promise, however it is the setting in the Northern Territories and the friendships and lives of the five women that kept me reading as well.
I would imagine life is hard in this area, and the challenges that the women face in this book and in actual life are enormous. The seasons of wet and dry, the isolation, the lack of the many entertainment opportunities we take for granted. And this book is set in the 1970’s and early 80’s. Yet on the other hand there is a beauty in the landscape and I am sure something that draws people to this harsh environment.
The five women were all interesting and I liked slowly getting to know them. Sybil – the matriarch is the one who starts up the book club. The book club helps to bring the women together and even if they have to have it over the radio because the weather is bad, it goes ahead. And they really do discuss the books and through them become involved more in each others lives. Sybil already has a great friend in Rita – from early working days. Kate her daughter-in-law is English and is facing into a place so different to where she grew up. Della is a stock person and hails from Texas, and she finds the northern territories grow on her all the time. Sallyanne really benefits from the friendships, she is a bright, intelligent, young woman in a marriage that is going south. I liked her penchant for the romance genre too!
These women face into loss and grief, the hardships of the job, the pain of miscarriage, the difficulties of marriage and the absolute pain of racism. Through it all they support each other – walk with each other – and through it all make a life worth living.
An at times emotional and satisfying read, I’d be delighted to belong to the Fairvale Ladies Book Club!