Author: Alissa Callen
Alissa Callen is a prolific Australian author who writes beautiful country tales weaving love and community; The Long Paddock is the first of her books I have read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Cressida Knight is working hard to save the family farm, it’s been in her family for generations and she is determined to see it successful again. The problem is that at the moment the property is suffering a pocket drought and things are looking grim. Her father sold off a parcel of land to the neighbouring property and it is the one piece of land that may have helped save her livelihood.
Cressy is a strong and independent woman working her farm and keeping company with her menagerie of pets; Reggie the bull, Kevin the cocky, Tippy the kelpie and of course the farm animals. Her animals are full of personality and entertaining characters in their own right. She is also a member of the local SES and loves her small town of Woodlea, even when the grapevine causes her grief.
The neighbouring farm is owned by the Rigby family, and after the death of his mother champion bull rider Denham returns to take the helm at Claremont. Denham and Cressy shared dreams of a bright future together but a dark family secret saw Denham decide to run and chase a bull riding career in Montana.
Cressy has convinced the town, and herself, that she has moved on from her feelings for Denham and that’s much easier to maintain when he is on the other side of the world; but how is that going to go now that he is back.
The Long Paddock is a touching story about many different issues facing those making a living in the country and off the land. Callen has written a tight knit small town community that looks out for one another; and has a thriving gossip mill that is thrilled with the return of their bull riding champion.
I enjoyed the story and the characters were well fleshed, my only real disappointment was in the dark family secret. The chemistry was palpable every time Cressy and Denham were close to one another; you could feel the heat at those times where they made physical contact and we were shown over and over how much these two still mean to one another. Denham told us countless times that he had to lock down his feelings because after discovering the dark secret in his family he could never be with her, he had to put her happiness first. My mind went into overdrive thinking about the possibilities and coming to a number of different conclusions, none of which were even close; when the secret was finally revealed I found it to be quite anti-climactic and it didn’t really make sense to me. I understand the gravity, I understand Denham’s fear but I don’t understand how he thought this was the best solution. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to give it away, I also don’t want to give the impression that I thought it was a trivial issue because it is far from that.
Cressy’s first priority is Glenmore and trying to keep the place afloat while she waits for the rain that is so desperately needed. In an attempt to keep her cattle fed Cressy takes the herd out droving on The Long Paddock, a stock route that was traditionally used to move herds between properties or to markets. It has been kept as Crown land to help farmers in times of drought, they apply for a permit and spend a couple of weeks walking their herd along the route allowing them to graze at their leisure. She can only hope that on her return to Glenmore the property has received some rain to help things look less bleak. Her fortnight of droving is far from uneventful but it certainly helps with feeding the cattle.
Disaster strikes Woodlea on the rodeo and campdraft weekend which helps put things in perspective as the town bands together.
We see more than just one dark secret come to light and free a cast of characters for second chances and new beginnings.
The Long Paddock is a tale of resilience, determination and the struggles that come with drought and life on the land. The book brings together a host of colourful characters, both people and animal. Callen’s animal characters have big personalities and are central characters in their own right.
This is a fantastic read that has introduced me to another fantastic Australian author I will be sure to keep an eye out for in future.
The Long Paddock is book #1 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2017.