Internal illustrations by Julie Stapleton
Self-published, Australia, first edition 2016, second edition 2019, third edition 2020
Deanna Copeland is a Canberra-based visual artist and writer. Reluctant Pioneer, the first of her two novels, is inspired by stories told to her by her mother, who came to Australia from England with her husband in 1948.
It is however a work of fiction, an Australian rural romance set in the recent past during the 1940s and 1950s.
Violet and George emigrate to Australia in search of a better life than that offered by post-World War 11 Britain. The impetus for the move comes from George who is keen on working on the land and who sees himself eventually becoming a landowner.
The harsh and difficult conditions of rural Australia prove a challenge for both Violet and George, but they show determination and diligence working at Squires Run, an outback property vastly different from anything Violet has known in the south of England.
The author focuses especially on the life of women on rural properties at the time, drawing on historical events of the day along with the personal experiences of her mother and father. She touches on many bigger issues as well as the day to day life of the rural Australian – racism, the status of women and violence towards them, alcoholism, gambling, relationships with the local Indigenous people, the developments in farming and transportation, food and social mores.
The challenges of bringing up a young family in a remote rural setting are also explored, from the care of a child whilst the mother is fully engaged in demanding domestic work to the need for children to travel long distances by bus to school.
There is also a love story holding the plot together to the last page. The author is at pains to explore with us the psychology of her leading woman as Violet grapples with her desires and the expectations of society, the difficulties of maintaining her marriage and the equal difficulties of not doing so.
This romance is set against the beauties of the bush along with the ravages of extreme weather conditions – droughts, flooding rains, shady trees and idyllic lagoons and waterholes.
The author’s own experience of rural life and of horsemanship is clear in this novel, as is her regard for the Australian countryside. She has a good understanding of the migrant experience, that of being caught between two worlds and the propensity we have as human beings to see through rose-coloured glasses what we have left behind.
There was a deep personal commitment from the author in the telling of this story. Though it is fiction, it is an homage to her mother and to the many pioneering women of all eras who have come to start new lives in Australia, leaving all that is familiar, and striking out into often hostile and dangerous places to make a new home.
The book is a tribute to the tenacity and strength of women everywhere and a song of praise to the beauty and the terror of the Australian landscape.
Thank you to Dee Copeland for my review copy of the book and for joining me in conversation about your work and mother’s life.