by Jennifer Scoullar
Published by Penguin Group Australia
Genres: Fiction, General, Romance
“The water was a floating carpet of vivid green, splashed with delicate purple flowers. This was worse than she thought. Water hyacinths were pretty, no doubt about it, but outside of their native Amazon they were also a curse, choking waterways. Somebody needed to clear out the weeds here. Somebody needed to clear out the poachers. Somebody needed to fix up the homestead.”
Nina can build a fence or nurture a newly-hatched duckling just as easily as she can fly a plane. She is a farmer on Red Gums, her family homestead in the Murray-Darling basin of northern New South Wales. Her parents have moved to the local town to manage a feed store, so she’s being managing the property on her own ever since. Nina’s increasingly-distant boyfriend Lockie is away on his family property in Queensland.
While drought, cotton farms, water thieves, and poachers are devastating the wetlands environment, Nina is working to rehabilitate the rivers while establishing a sustainable organic farm. She has her eyes on the next door property, Billabong Bend, and when she sees a threatened painted snipe in the river there while hearing poacher gunfire in the distance, things start to escalate. She resolves to buy the property. The owner is her friend, an elderly woman in a nursing home, who is firmly resolved to never sell – but when she eventually does die, Nina knows that her heir will sell Billabong Bend off to the highest bidder, wetlands be damned.
Meanwhile, Nina’s childhood love across the river returns from overseas with his nine-year-old daughter. Son of a cotton farmer, Ric has only recently discovered that he has a daughter, and Sophie initially rails against being dragged off to a farm with a near-stranger. Sophie’s engagement with the natural world is slow but delicious, reminiscent of Storm Boy and The Snow Goose.
The book takes a firm, passionate, but not-too-preachy approach to the issue of environmental change and sustainability. It is a detailed, nuanced examination at the ways in which thoughtless human activities disrupt life’s delicate balance, while also acknowledging and celebrating nature’s resilience. There is a gentle touch of animism/spirituality and a deep respect for the river’s stories, pre-invasion as well as post-. It is more a romance between Nina and the Billabong Bends wetlands than between Nina and her love interest. There is also a strong mystery storyline, so this novel should have wide appeal and deserves a wide readership.
Billabong Bend has a believable romance with authentic external obstacles, a villain with some complexity, an author who knows what she’s talking about, and a competent heroine who goes after what she wants.
Jennifer Scoullar is an Australian writer with a deep love for the natural world. Billabong Bend is her fourth novel. Her previous books include Wasp Season, Brumby’s Run, and Currawong Creek. She can be found at jenniferscoullar.com or on Twitter @JenScoullar.
I received an e-galley of this book from Netgalley in return for an honest review.