The Woolgrower’s Companion
By Joy Rhoades
Australia 1945. Until now Kate Dowd has led a sheltered life on her family's sprawling sheep station but, with her father's health in decline, the management of the farm is increasingly falling to her.
Kate is rising to the challenge when the arrival of two Italian POW labourers disrupts everything – especially when Kate finds herself drawn to the enigmatic Luca Canali.
Then she receives devastating news. The farm is near bankrupt and the bank is set to repossess. Given just eight weeks to pay the debt, Kate is now in a race to save everything she holds dear.
Kate turned towards the voice, a man’s voice, from along the street. It was Mr Addison from the bank. Kate had always found him a bit snake-like, with heavy-lidded eyes behind thick glasses.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, glancing to see who was about. ‘I wanted to catch you. To speak to you without your father. I’m sorry, I tell you.’
‘Sorry? What for?’
‘About Amiens. It’s a great shame.’
Kate stared at him.
‘I could give you a lift home, Mrs Dowd. I have a meeting in Wingadee this afternoon, anyway, and we could talk. Tell you how sorry I am.’
Kate needed to know what Addison was rabbiting on about. She pulled her door shut, and Addison reversed out, his cigarette smoke swirling about the car, and she wound her window all the way down.
As a blur of eucalyptus streamed by, Kate inhaled to ask Addison what he meant. ‘You’re sorry about what, Mr Addison?’
‘The Amiens debts. The overdue interest on the sheep property.’
‘Overdue? You’re mistaken,’ Kate said evenly. ‘My father always pays the bills.’
‘Incorrect. You’re overdue in the most serious way.’ He drew on the cigarette and blew the smoke over his shoulder out the window.
‘My father will be most unhappy that you’re saying these things.’
Addison brought the car to such a sudden stop off the bitumen, the wheels skidded in the dirt and Kate put a hand up against the wooden dashboard.
‘You don’t know,’ he said. ‘Know?’
She fought to stay calm. She would wonder later if it was at this moment that her old life ended.
Dust floated past the vehicle, sliced by the black myalls that lined the road. Addison flicked ash through his open window, let the clutch out and steered the car back onto the road. ‘You should know.’ He looked straight ahead and began to talk.
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I grew up in a small town in the bush in Queensland, Australia. I spent my time with my head in a book, or outdoors – climbing trees, playing in dry creek beds, or fishing for yabbies in the railway dam under the big sky. Some of my favourite memories were visiting my grandmother’s sheep farm in rural New South Wales where my father had grown up. She was a fifth-generation grazier, a lover of history, and a great and gentle teller of stories. My childhood gave me two passions: a love of the Australian landscape and a fascination with words and stories.
I left the bush at 13 when I went to boarding school in Brisbane. I stayed on there to study law and literature at the University of Queensland. After, my work as a lawyer took me first to Sydney and then all over the world, to London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and New York. But I always carried in my head a strong sense of my childhood: the people, the history, the light and the landscape. Those images have never left me and they would eventually become The Woolgrower’s Companion. It’s a story I’ve felt I had to tell.
I currently live in London with my husband and our two young children. But I miss the Australian sky.
Update: Joy’s debut novel has been shortlisted for the UK Society of Authors’ McKitterick Prize 2018 and shortlisted for the UK Historical Writers Association Debut Crown 2018.