BOOK CLUB: Fresh From the Dust

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Fresh from the Dust by Dorothy Holmes is a historical life drama set in Western Australia, starting in 1941 during wartime.  The book follows the lives of Steve and Irene Robinson and their daughters over twenty years. It’s a life of hardship, challenges and survival.

Steve has had no choice but to take his family away from his father’s farm where he works. His father is controlling and has made life unbearable for Irene and the children.

Steve has found a job overseeing a woodcutting team at a railway camp 80 miles out of Kalgoorlie. They move to this remote tent camp set in a harsh environment.

One day Steve doesn’t return from work. Irene is left in the middle of nowhere without money and food running out. Realising that the camp has moved on to a new area, she has to use her wits to concentrate on survival. She manages to flag down a passing train.

Steve suffered an accident while loading the train and was semi-conscious when the train reached Fremantle Port. Steve is struggling to remember who he is and has now been arrested for theft. He has been diagnosed with epilepsy and amnesia as a result of his head trauma.

Life could not get more complicated for Steve and Irene.

Irene finds it difficult living with Steve’s mood changes and bursts of temper due to his condition. She describes it as walking blindfolded on a path of broken glass. Steve bears no resemblance to the man she married. She often dreams about her life taking a different path.

Divorce is not an option, as in these times there was no support system available for women and children to leave. Irene remains in her marriage trying to do her best to protect her children and care for her husband.

The story takes us to the war in New Guinea. Family squabbles over inheritances. We follow the childhood and school years of the daughters and their first employment. The family friends and community are made up of a diverse range of cultures, enabling the story to show realistically the attitude shown to people from overseas at that time in Australia.

It is the story of a father struggling with his health issues while trying to do his best to provide for his family. It is the story of a mother trying to care for everyone. It is a story of children living in a challenging environment and difficult times. It is a story of resilience and survival with an unusual twist at the end.

The historical aspect and research are incredible. A book spanning 1941 through to 1960 is a long journey. A lot happens in Australia through this time.

I did enjoy the book and found empathy for this family. Finding out what happened to each member was what kept me reading. I am grateful that a lot of issues highlighted in the book are dealt with quite differently now.

Well worth reading, especially if you love Australian history.

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club members are reading Fresh from the Dust by Dorothy Holmes. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

6 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: Fresh From the Dust

  1. This book is long, but so beautifully written. It covers a period of almost 20 years. A young famiy, living in a way we today could never imagine. Steve does all he can to provide for his wife and 2 young children, working hard in a woodcutting team on a railway line. Irene is not liking the harsh life, living in the outback in a tent.
    Steve doesn’t come home, after some trouble on the train, where he is set up by some unscrupulous men, and suffers serious head injuries, and barely survives. Unknown to him, Irene is expecting another baby, and believes he is dead.
    Months pass and she discovers he is alive. He is not the man she knew. He has violent outbursts, and is argumentative. It is a time when leaving him is not an option, but she also sees the old Steve shine through occasionally, and still loves him.
    There is then a change, and they are in New Guinea. Family squabbles makes times tough, and the years roll by and we see the children grow up. Different cultures bring all sorts of different family dynamics, but they hold strong as a family, doing all that they can to stay together.
    There is so much change in the world over that almost 20 year span of time, and it is extremely well researched and brought to life in the story. Sometimes it was a modern and friendly world, and others it was filled with racism, and how they endured it all.
    The final chapter did bring tears to my eyes, and it is a book that, even though long, is so very well written that you keep on reading.
    Many thanks to Beauty & Lace for the opportunity to read ‘Fresh from the Dust’ and to Dorothy Holmes for her superb writing.

  2. I enjoyed this book very much.
    The story of Steve and Irene’s life is interesting, unimaginable now. The hardships they went through, especially the women trying to bring up children.
    It’s interesting to read about how their lives went. The characters in the book are strong and believeable and it’s well written.

  3. This family drama story of Steve and Irene provided an insight into times gone by in Australia. I really felt for Irene, and her children too – their persistence and resilience shining through in the face of numerous hardships.

    While it was a long story, it was easy to read and very interesting. However, I found it a bit too bleak for me, although I did admire Irene’s strength.

    If you like historic fiction or family dram stories, especially those set in Australia, I am sure you will enjoy it. Thank you for the opportunity to read Fresh from the dust.

  4. Thankyou for the opportunity to read this, I found the story captivating and engaging. The characters were interesting and relatable and I enjoyed following them along the span of time that we began to get to know them until the end. I sympathized with Irene at times but then also admonished her for some of her choices.
    I did however, have trouble with the way the spoken word was written and felt it needed a tidy up. Most times I thought it was them thinking and had to reread.
    The research for this book was evident and well in theme with the times. I often thought about how some of the events that occurred would be dealt with in these current times, especially mental health.

  5. Fresh from the dust is a beautiful long historical piece. I’m a huge fan of Australian novels and this one definitely does it justice.
    The characters were likeable and well relateable.
    It shows throughout the research the author did to write this amazing book

  6. I am always interested to read Australian historical dramas which show the resilience of people who lived during hard times and challenging environmental conditions of the past. Overall, I enjoyed “Fresh from the Dust ” even though I did find it a bit tedious at times and struggled to maintain interest in some sections. I think the author can be congratulated for the extensive research which has made Steve and Irene, in particular, so relatable. For me though, the history of 1940 -1960 is not too far from my memory because I was a child of the late 1940s in Australia. I remember vividly many of the challenges our families faced with mental illness, domestic violence, poverty, lack of employment, disability rife after the wars. I think this book is well worth reading and I have already passed it along to my ageing friends who also have clear memories of this not-too-distant bygone era.

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