Title: In a Great Southern Land
Author: Mary-Anne OConnor
Published: March 18th 2019
Publisher: HQ Fiction – AU
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4.5 stars
From the soft green hills of Ireland to the wild Shipwreck Coast of southern Victoria, the rich farm lands of New South Wales to the sudden battlefields of Ballarat, this is an epic story of the cost of freedom and the value of love in a far-flung corner of the world where a new nation struggles to be born.
1851: After the death of her father, young Eve Richards is destitute. Her struggle to survive sees her deported in chains to the colony of New South Wales, penniless and alone. But here in this strange new world fortune smiles on the spirited, clever Eve in the shape of a respectable job offer that will lead to a quiet, secure life. Then the fiery and charismatic Irishman Kieran Clancy crosses her path…
For Kieran Clancy, the kindest man on earth, and his brother Liam, the promise of free passage and land in this brave new world is a chance to leave the grief and starvation of County Clare behind. But while Liam works to farm their land, Kieran has the fire of gold-fever upon him and is drawn to the goldfields of Ballarat. As tensions grow on the goldfields, and with the blood of an Irish rebel still beating through his heart, Kieran finds himself caught up in the cataclysmic events at the Eureka Stockade and faces the decision of a lifetime: whether or not, when it comes to love, blood will remain thicker than water…
‘This was an opportunity. A fresh start in a new game. A chance.’
Mary-Anne O’Connor, the author of In a Great Southern Land, believes she is a lucky writer. O’Connor has a bevy of colourful yarns at her disposal, thanks to her family, who have issued her with a round of rich anecdotes from their past. Many of these stories have spurned the creation of the four novels Mary-Anne O’Connor has produced, to date. I am excited about the prospect of more of these stories coming to life in the near future. In a Great Southern Land is a wide-ranging Australian saga, and a strong testimony to colonial times, where freedom was almost impossible to attain.
Mary-Anne O’Connor is a gifted Australian storyteller, who has flair from bringing to life events of the past, within an all encompassing narrative. I have enjoyed each and every book I have read by Mary-Anne O’Connor. In a Great Southern Land sees O’Connor delve deep into the Australian history books, as she looks at one of the most significant moments in our early settlement years. In a Great Southern Land covers the events of the fateful Eureka Stockade. O’Connor also intertwines the life and times of a family that hails from Ireland, seeking a better life in the land of new opportunity. This compelling family story is told alongside the life of a young woman who wants to make a fresh start in Australia, after a terrible act of desperation. In a Great Southern Land is an absorbing tale, that really is a special treat for historical fiction fans.
Brotherhood and familial relationships form strong arc in this novel, sculpting the events of the book from start to finish. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the Clancy boys, from their humble beginnings and fight for freedom in Ireland, through to their new life in Australia. These two young men are engaging protagonists, with full and involving lives. I genuinely appreciated the chance to be acquainted with the Clancy brothers. Kieran’s life in particular was an eventful one, that often had me on the edge of my seat. There is denying the willpower and determination of these two brothers. Their bond, as well as their desire to seek opportunities anew, is reflected at many key moments of In a Great Southern Land. The enormity of the decision to embark on a new life in an almost alien territory hits the reader hard, and is depicted well by O’Connor.
‘Kieran stood and stared out at the harbour, observing the ships that has sailed from all corners to rest here, beneath the new set of stars. To bring people who needed to start again. People like himself.’
The other main player in this strong historical drama is Eve Richards. It was a true pleasure to follow Eve’s tale. Eve’s story is just one of many early settlement tales. Many women, just like Eve, made the best of what they were given, despite landing on the ends of the earth. For me, Eve’s story really magnified the height of the struggles faced by women in particular in this era. O’Connor draws our attention to their daily fight to overcome the sheer isolation, harshness and hardships prevalent during this time. Eve’s story also allows for a touch of historical romance to fly around this engaging tale.
The Eureka Stockade overshadows the events in this novel. There is a sense of impending doom that overhangs In a Great Southern Land, as the history books tell us that this was event that passed with a great deal of heartbreak, loss and bloodshed. Mary-Anne O’Connor’s presentation of this event is vivid, authentic and historically well informed. Although I am somewhat familiar with this regrettable, but revolutionary chapter in our history books, I was impressed by O’Connor’s depiction of the events. Most of all, I was surprised by the rich examination into the aftermath of the Eureka Stockade. O’Connor devotes a significant amount of time in her book to examining the long lasting impact of the Eureka Stockade, with a particular focus on the court proceedings. This opened my eyes to Australia as a new frontier in times past, clearly this was a time where freedom and rights was of the utmost importance. It made me grateful for our current climate and for the tough times our ancestors went through to secure our independence.
Mary-Anne O’Connor is clearly dedicated to bringing a strong sense of place to the pages of her latest novel. O’Connor manages to traverse the beauty of Ireland, with the barren lands of Australia, to the tough conditions of the goldfields and more. Each locale is painted with precision and authenticity, so the reader feels like that are standing with the characters, taking in all the setting has to offer.
Before I draw this review to a conclusion, I do need to urge any potential reader of In a Great Southern Land to take the time to visit the ‘Acknowledgements’ section of the book. Located at the close of the story, it offers an educative and enlightening insight into the process the author undertook to complete this epic novel. The most touching part of the Acknowledgements section was the author’s personal family connection to this story and I strongly feel that it provided further weight to this already amazing tale!
In a Great Southern Land is a book that undoubtedly leaves a strong imprint on your mind. As an Australian, it served as a reminder of the sacrifices, the blood, sweat, tears, love and devotion that was put into making a go of it in the new lucky country by our colonial era ancestors. In a Great Southern Land is another highly regarded novel from Mary-Anne O’Connor, a superior voice in Australian historical fiction.
‘This great southern land was wild and unpredictable, sometimes savage, sometimes beautiful, but like anywhere there was opportunity, if you sought to find it.’
In a Great Southern Land by Mary-Anne O’Connor was published on 18th March 2019 by HQ Fiction – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of In a Great Southern Land, Mary-Anne O’Connor, visit here.
*I wish to thank Harper Collins Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
In a Great Southern Land is book #98 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge