Jillaroo by Rachael Treasure
Published in 2002 by Penguin Books Australia.
After a terrible argument with her father over their family property, ‘Waters Meeting’, Rebecca Saunders throws her swag in the ute and heads north with her three dogs. A job as a jillaroo takes her into the rowdy world of B&S balls, Bundy rum and boys. When she at last settles down to a bit of study at agricultural college, her life is turned upside down by the very handsome but very drunken party animal Charlie Lewis . . .
Will she choose a life of wheat farming on vast open plains with Charlie? Or will she return to the mountains, to fight for the land and the river that runs through her soul?
It’s only when tragedy shatters her world that Rebecca finds a strength and courage she never knew she had, in this action packed novel of adventure, dreams and determination.
Over the last couple of days I’ve tried to think about when I first learnt about Rachael Treasure and the type of books she wrote. Although my mind still draws a blank as to the exact time frame, I do remember almost unconsciously always understanding that she wrote rural fiction and was one of the, if not arguably the fore runner, dominators of Australia rural fiction. For years it seems, I’ve understood that she is driving force behind the thriving genre without ever having read her work. When an author’s reputation precedes your encounter with their work in such a way, you can rest assure you’re in good hands. Just as you expect it too, Jillaroo delivers with the promise of awe-inspiring narration and realistic and down-to-earth characters.
Jillaroo tells the story of Rebecca Saunders a feisty woman of the land who after an argument with her father is kicked off the family farm. Forced to find her own way, she takes up a position as a Jillaroo on a property hours away from her home and begins her new life, albeit dreaming of the rolling hill and her Rebecca River (aka Home). Living a rowdy life, Rebecca has no trouble fitting in with the men, in fact with her drunken ways and no-bullshit antics she seems to fit in better with the men than the ‘farming women’. One night during a B&S ball she meets a somewhat hammered and naked Charlie Lewis and she is immediately hooked. Although their unexpected meeting is short lived, Rebecca spends a fair bit of time thinking about him and receives the biggest shock of her life when Charlie follows her to agricultural college a year later. From there their relationship snowballs, as does their family dramas it seems.
What I loved about this novel was that it is what it is. Treasure holds nothing back and gives little away at the same time. Her characters are frank, country loving and true blue Aussies who know the land like the back of their hand. The male characters are powerful and engaging making them seem larger than life, while her female characters are full of intrigue and unspent potential. Rebecca in particular was such a strong protagonist that I instantly feel in love with her character. She was smart and outspoken, while all the while knowing exactly what she wanted and needed from life, even if she couldn’t work out how to get there most of the time. She was hardworking and she demanded respect from her family, her friends, and the reader. Her tough mentality and the issues she overcomes position her as the perfect battler/underdog that Australia loves to root for.
Having lived in the ‘country’ for a bit, and with family members who still do, I really appreciated Treasure’s spot on narration and representation of small country towns and the people who inhabit them. The atmosphere of the narrative and the characters who inhabit these towns are people you would come across any where in rural Australia and because of this I often found myself nodding my head when new comers were introduced and described in the story. Treasure’s use of imagery, description, setting and dialogue was both uniquely Australian and spot on. The narrative itself was well paced, with the rawness of the writing provoking physical reactions from the reader. I laughed with these characters, I cried for them, I smiled and hoped for a better future alongside them.
Although Charlie Lewis demands a bit of fun and attention, Treasure brings to light a number of issues facing country families, farms, and small towns. She touches on a number of ‘country taboo’ subjects and forces the reader into a headspace they might never have considered going through before. Through characters such as Rebecca’s sensitive brother, Tom, we glimpse issues of severe unspoken and undiagnosed depression and the way it affects not only those involved but the bigger community as well. The issue of alcoholism is dealt with in a lesser extent through the characterisation of Rebecca, Charlie and Rebecca’s father. But at the heart of the narrative the issue of family and its tragic breakdown is explored and pitted against the harsh and unforgiving background of the outback. In the country there are no second chances, but what Treasure points out in the novel, is that in family there may just be one if you are willing to work hard, look harder and fighter long enough to find and achieve it.
After reading Jillaroo there’s no doubt in my mind why Treasure was able to inspire an entire new genre and continues to reign some eleven years on. I very much look forward to reading more of her work in the future.
Read as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2013