The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson
Author: Leah Purcell
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia, 2019
Leah Purcell is an award-winning writer and has a background as a playwright, actor and film producer amongst other achievements. This novel has been adapted for film, which is slated for release this year.
This historical fiction novel, based on a short story written by Henry Lawson, provides a stark sense of our history, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Set in the late 1800s, The Drover’s Wife tells of the harsh and almost impossible conditions that were endured during white settlement. The plot focuses mainly on Molly Johnson who, with her children, waits for her husband to return from months away droving. They live in an isolated hut in the High Country where, with the help of her eldest son, Danny, Molly and the children survive and cope on their own, including the birthing of a baby.
A visitor arrives unexpectedly. Yodaka is keen to be away from civilisation and begs time to recover from the injuries he’s received on the run. Eventually Molly discovers that Yodaka is the holder of knowledge that Molly eventually understands.
The book depicts the best and worst of human behaviour: cruelty, degradation, humour, love and a will to survive. The intriguing plot invites the reader to travel in the shoes of the tenacious and suffering Molly Johnson, the drover’s wife.
This story lingered in my thoughts for weeks after finishing the novel and I quickly fell back into the emotive ambience of the book while writing this review. I loved the book – it made me think yet again about colonisation and our (I’m a white Australian) role that has never been fully owned up to. The writer integrated and treated the issues of women and their place in history and society with clarity and directness.
Thanks, Leah Purcell. I couldn’t put this book down.
Heather Whitford Roche, Jan 2020
Ballarat Writers Inc. Book review group