Set mostly in the Mallee (the dried-out
plains of north-western Victoria in Australia), this little book tells the
story of Jean’s time working as a dressmaking instructor on the Better Farming
Train in the late 1920s and early 1930s, before the depression came to
Australia and farmers were starting to realise the potential of “modern”
farming methods, and of her life as a farmer’s wife in the Mallee during a
horrendous drought which eventually drove the farmers off their land.
We read along with Jean’s hopes on the
train, as she meets her husband (the title refers to his empirical approach to
life as well as farming) and as they settle down to domesticity together. I
found the book a little depressing on the whole, but I think that is a result
of the author’s intention to convey Jean’s depression, boredom and
disappointment in the country. I didn’t find her husband a likeable character
and couldn’t understand why she married him – there was very little expounding
upon her feelings at the crucial stage.
What I thought was very well done was the
sudden insight into her husband’s character – his background in his home
country and the reason for his obsession with farming.
Not really worth bothering with, I don’t