As in many countries during WWII, with communities and families depleted of their manpower, it was the women who held things together, doing 'man' jobs, managing finances, keeping everything going and in order. In this novel, Kate is a young woman living on her father's sheep station. She has recently married a soldier, mainly to satisfy her dying mother's wishes, but he is away. Her father, a returned WWI soldier, owns and runs the station, but it is increasingly apparent that he is suffering from some sort of mental illness, and unable to manage the farm the way it needs. Kate finds the farm is on the brink of being foreclosed on by the local bank, thanks to her father having made some unexplained spending. Kate also finds that she has to also manage two Italian POWs who have been allocated to the farm, a farm manager who does not take lightly to having a young woman tell her what to do, a young boy who is the nephew of the manager, and her housemaid, Daisy. Daisy is a 14 year old half caste Aboriginal girl under state care as all half caste children were at this time.
This is a huge amount for Kate to take on board, with few skills in farm, land and sheep management, let alone people management to help her out. She does however have great instincts and intuition, guts, and a good brain, just showing it's not what you know, but how you behave that is the true essence of success and character. Plus she has The Woolgrower's Companion, which she finds one day in her father's office. The land and the weather, the lack of rain, the wind, totally dominate the day to day lives of those on the farm and in the local community. The stress and tension of daily life in such an environment is present on almost every page, you almost want to be drinking a beer in sympathy.
The author's grandmother grew up on a station similar to the one in this novel, giving the author plenty of material to play around with in crafting her story. Kate is a great character, as are the two POWs, both very different men, who have little understanding of how and why they have ended up in Australia after being captured in Italy simply defending their country. There is a sort of love story between Kate and Luca, but of course Kate is still married to Jack. I love how Kate evolves in her marriage to Jack over the course of the book, as relevant today as it was 70 plus years ago.
What is not so relevant is how the Aboriginal people are treated and viewed by the largely white population, especially in rural areas where communities were much more conservative. As we know this is an ulcerating sore on the hide of Australia, with still many unresolved social and economic issues. It is truly appalling how Daisy and her family were treated, how anyone of Aboriginal descent was viewed, although if you looked more white than dark, then your path was considerably easier.
I really liked this novel, and although the ending came without everything being neatly and tidily resolved - very annoying - it does leave things open for a sequel. Plus it would make a great TV drama.