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The Drover’s Wife

Book Review

In The Drover’s Wife, Leah Purcell draws out the harsh realities of living in pre-federation Australia.

It surprises me how so many people still view violence against women and children as a ‘domestic’ issue. It also surprises me at how we view the indigenous peoples of Australia as a sector of the public that need to fit within the western societal structures. Leah Purcell so beautifully draws out the architecture of the Ngarigo/Walgalu people, giving us a glimpse into the significance of Story Telling. She treats the culture with a gentleness and the deference it deserves. She exposes the casual acceptance of patriarchy against both women and the First Nations Peoples. The patriarchy reminds us that violence against women in an Australia before federation was a casual affair; a man’s right to be upheld by law.

What emanates from the book is Molly Johnson’s fierceness and inner strength. Yes, both are over-used words, but in this case, they are apt. The beauty and harsh sufferings are contrasted against the beauty and harshness of the Snowy Mountains. The book does not romanticise the ‘Australian way of life’ or ‘mateship’. It reminds us that a trip from London to Melbourne used to take 6 weeks through oceans and seas that caused severe sickness. That childbirth and fevers were as dangerous to the settlers, as they were to the indigenous peoples. That love between two people can be strained under the pressures of equality and human rights.

The Drover's Wife by Leah Purcell

At the time of reading this book, we were in the peak of COVID-19. There are ongoing fears of rising violence against women and children. Legal and refuge centres urge the government and people for funding and ask family and friends to continually check in on those around them. If you or anyone you know is suffering from violence, please call 1800 737 732: 1800respect.org.au.

The Drover’s Wife is published by Hamish Hamilton (RRP $23.99).

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