The Land Girls…
About the Book:
A moving story of love, loss and survival against the odds by bestselling author of The Last of the Bonegilla Girls, Victoria Purman.
It was never just a man’s war…
War has engulfed Europe and now the Pacific, and Australia is fighting for its future. For spinster Flora Atkins, however, nothing much has changed. Tending her dull office job and beloved brother and father, as well as knitting socks for the troops, leaves her relatively content. Then one day a stranger gives her brother a white feather and Flora’s anger propels her out of her safe life and into the vineyards of the idyllic Mildura countryside, a member of the Australian Women’s Land Army.
There she meets Betty, a 17-year-old former shopgirl keen to do her bit for the war effort and support her beloved, and the unlikely Lilian, a well-to-do Adelaide girl fleeing her overbearing family and the world’s expectations for her. As the Land Girls embrace their new world of close-knit community and backbreaking work, they begin to find pride in their roles. More than that, they start to find a kind of liberation. For Flora, new friendships and the singular joy derived from working the land offer new meaning to her life, and even the possibility of love.
But as the clouds of war darken the horizon, and their fears for loved ones – brothers, husbands, lovers – fighting at the front grow, the Land Girls’ hold on their world and their new-found freedoms is fragile. Even if they make it through unscathed, they will not come through unchanged…
I have read a few novels now about the Women’s Land Army, but each of these have been set in England, never Australia, so it was a real pleasure to pick up this latest release by Victoria Purman and read all about the marvellous efforts our women made in order to keep our country ticking over while WWII was raging throughout Europe and the Pacific. Australia had quite a substantial Women’s Land Army:
‘Around 6,000 women served in the Australian Women’s Land Army between 1942 and the end of the war. These women left the cities and moved into the country, to farms and orchards, to do the work once done by men. Many stayed on for the duration of the war. It was disbanded on the 31st December, 1945, and women returned to their old lives. After the war, their work and sacrifices were largely ignored and forgotten but they continued to campaign long and hard to have their work recognised. They marched on Anzac Day for the first time in 1991, and in 1994 became eligible for the Civilian Service Medal 1939–1945. On the 20th August, 2012, at a reception at Parliament House, Canberra, the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard presented each surviving member with a certificate and a commemorative brooch to wear. Her comments on the day outlined just how much they had contributed to the war effort.’ – Author notes.
The Land Girls is just the type of historical fiction I enjoy the most. It’s a quiet read in the sense that it’s driven more by the events of history than by a fast paced action filled plot. It’s very much a character study on the three women that steer the narrative, and through walking in their shoes, we are treated to a snapshot of Australian society during the WWII years, in both the city and the country. There is a wealth of detail woven into this novel, it really is a treasure trove, and in less skilled writerly hands, it may have been too much like a history lesson, but with Victoria Purman shaping the story, it was perfectly balanced. There is such a sense of atmosphere to this novel, the reader is really able to get a handle on what life in Australia was like back then. The politeness and reserve that was still in place was captured vividly through the relationships depicted, both working and private. I felt like I was reading about an Australia that was on the cusp of change. So much tragedy had come to pass, with both world wars within a generation of each other, and there was a sense that the idyllic lifestyle that had up until then been enjoyed was rapidly coming to a close. I loved the detail of everything the women did while in the land army. They did all sorts of work, from tending crops to working with livestock and all kinds of factory work – everything. And they travelled great distances to do so, many moving around to follow the crop seasons. It was a remarkable effort, and many women did it for years. I daresay it would have been quite difficult for some to go back to the domestic sphere once the war was over.
‘That August in Batlow, it was colder than July. The apple-tree pruning continued. The Land Army girls’ routine of Friday night dances and Saturday nights at the pictures continued through those winter months, small windows of respite from the hard, physical work and the incessant cold. They’d sung along to Babes on Broadway with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland and been scared out of their wits by Apache Trail starring Donna Reed. When the newsreel relayed the latest news from the war, of further Allied gains in France and American bombing in the Philippines, everyone in the theatre stood and sang ‘God Save The King’ and cheered. The girls had marched out of the cinema exhilarated, singing the Andrews Sisters’ ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ until they forgot the lyrics and botched the harmonies but they didn’t care as they walked the two-and-a-half miles home in the cold.’
There is love and laughter within this novel, pain and grief as well; all coloured with so much realism. Victoria Purman just seems to be going from strength to strength with her historical fiction. Highly recommended for readers who are interested in history with a focus on Australian women.
Thanks is extended to HarperCollins Publishers Australia via NetGalley for providing me with a copy of The Land Girls for review.
About the Author:
Victoria Purman is a multi-published, award-nominated, Amazon Kindle–bestselling author. She has worked in and around the Adelaide media for nearly thirty years as an ABC television and radio journalist, a speechwriter to a premier, political adviser, editor, media adviser and private-sector communications consultant. She is a regular guest at writers’ festivals, has been nominated for a number of readers choice awards and was a judge in the fiction category for the 2018 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature. Her most recent novels are The Three Miss Allens, published in 2016, The Last of the Bonegilla Girls (2018) and The Land Girls (2019).
The Land Girls
Published by HQ Fiction – AU
Released on 15th April 2019