Author: Fiona McArthur
The Homestead Girls is the latest rural offering from Fiona McArthur and set in the fictitious town of Mica Ridge, two hours from Broken Hill. It is a tale of friendship, compassion and overcoming the baggage of the past while illustrating the intense and important work of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Fiona McArthur is a rural midwife and her medical knowledge is well explored.
Dr Billie Green lived in Mica Ridge as a child but moved to the city with an aunt after the loss of her parents. She is a doctor who has spent many years travelling, never really putting down roots, in a bid to expand her knowledge base. She also has a teenage daughter falling in with the wrong crowd so when the opportunity to return to her hometown and take up a position with the Royal Flying Doctor Service arises she knows it’s time. Mia is less than impressed with the idea of small town life but soon makes friends.
The Homestead Girls are made up of Soretta Byrnes the granddaughter of drought-stricken sheep station owner Lachlan; Daphne Prince the RFDS flight nurse; Loretta Lamerton the octogenarian who spent 50 years nursing the outback and newly arrived Billie and Mia Green. The five women are brought together by the RFDS and through time spent together and circumstance end up unlikely housemates.
All of these women found a new strength when they came together, a new perspective and formed an unexpected bond. They quickly became the family they had all been missing.
There is a minor element of romance which wasn’t explored in depth but was enough to bring some of our male characters into sharper focus. They too have their fair share of baggage so it is with great interest I watched the interactions between the staff at the RFDS base.
The undercurrent of suspense was minor but did have me wondering where it would go, while also having a pretty good idea what would happen but not how it would be resolved.
Alongside the slow simmering attractions and the blossoming friendships, not to mention the blossoming women, is the plight of farmers in drought stricken areas as they pray for rain and try to make ends meet. Soretta was lucky in that the farmhouse is a gorgeous size and she has many extra rooms, perfect for taking on boarders. The extra rooms gave Daphne and Billie the chance to try out the station life almost on a trial basis. Lorna just needed to get some space from her son and daughter-in-law to save their relationships and feel a little useful again. Mia was dragged along on the ride unwillingly, until she arrived and found the animals.
The main attraction for me in this one is the page time given to the RFDS and the wonderful work it does in our outback communities. It isn’t just about saving lives in emergency situations; though it certainly does that too. It is also about the regular outreach clinics to ensure that our remotest Australians have regular access to basic health care, immunisations, dental services, general practice services and nursing services. McArthur manages to cover the huge variation in callouts that the RFDS face from snake bites to vehicle accidents, heart attacks, farming incidents and childbirth. The staff never know what a shift will entail and McArthur even goes into the differences faced by ambulance officers on the road and RFDS personnel in the air and the different challenges they face.
The fact that the RFDS relies heavily on donations does not go unnoticed and I hope that people will take away from this book the important work carried out by the service and help them to raise more much needed funds.
Five strong and capable women who just needed a little support to really soar, a family network they had been missing and now find in each other. A captivating tale of friendship and compassion, of small communities banding together in tough times and making everyone stronger. I really enjoyed the characters, the settings and the story. Fiona McArthur has written an enchanting tale of loyalty, dedication and the family we find for ourselves. I can’t wait to see what McArthur has for us next.
The Homestead Girls is Book #33 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.