Joan Yelland is just sick of it, okay? She’s sick and tired of being the wealthy socialite her mother has raised her up to be. She’s just got to get away for a while, okay? Just a break, really. So she flies from the social whirl of Sydney to her godmother’s home on a cattle station in the north of Australia. Landing in a DC-3, on a dirt strip in the middle of nowhere, the well-turned-out beauty starts an adventure she’ll never forget! On the two-day trek to her godmother’s home, in the company of their cantankerous niece Shelley, she fords a flooded river on horseback, and camps out in the bush overnight, hearing the didgeridoos off in the darkness, and meeting one of the reclusive “moonshiners” when she takes a short walk away from camp in the evening. Arriving at Lantana Station just as a cyclone hits, the adventure is just beginning!
Right from the get-go, you’re given a sense of place–the Australian Outback, a part of the world where the venerable Douglas DC-3 (not produced since 1942) would still be a tremendously useful aircraft to have around. Joan is not your average socialite; she doesn’t view the people around her as “beneath” her in any way, and she’s appreciative of all the help she must have to get accustomed to her new surroundings. Right away, she meets Edmond, the boss hand of the ranch, now that Mr. and Mrs. Atherton have grown older. The big, mysterious man rides a great black horse named “Satan”, and it’s clear that Shelley has her eyes set on him, and she will not put up with some fancy-dancy interloper coming to town and causing trouble!
I really enjoyed this tale. Walker opens up with a good bit of exposition, explaining why Joan would be in such a situation, but once she finishes with that, as Joan disembarks on the dusty runway at Orphir, she proceeds to show us a truly amazing, beautiful place, and people whom the reader can really understand. Most of us, I’m sure, have never lived in the boondocks as the denizens of Lantana Station do, but we’re immediately at home. Our heroine hunkers down with the rest of the household as a cyclone passes over, and Joan even rides alone to a far-flung home to come to the aid of a sick family once the storm clears. Just before the storm hits, an old flame from out West turns up, and she watches as he connives his way to ending up settling in the area; once she figures out what he’s up to, Joan will have none of it, and is done with him.
The ending is unsurprising, and unforced. Edmond was, of course, the “moonshiner” that she met on her first night in the Outback, which she knew all along. Joan finds that she loves the rugged country, and the rugged man she has met there. There was the right amount of steam here, and all of our supporting cast just fit right in. This is a chaste story, but a solid, beautifully-told one, and well worth a read even fifty years after its’ initial publication (1961). I heartily recommend it, and look forward to finding other Lucy Walker gems.