It is 1934, the Great War is long over and the next is yet to come. Amid billowing clouds of dust and information, the government ‘Better Farming Train’ slides through the wheat fields and small towns of Australia, bringing expert advice to those living on the land. The train is on a crusade to persuade the country that science is the key to successful farming, and that productivity is patriotic.
In the swaying cars an unlikely love affair occurs between Robert Pettergree, a man with an unusual taste for soil, and Jean Finnegan, a talented young seamstress with a hunger for knowledge. In an atmosphere of heady scientific idealism, they marry and settle in the impoverished Mallee with the ambition of proving that a scientific approach to cultivation can transform the land.
But after seasons of failing crops, and with a new World War looming, Robert and Jean are forced to confront each other, the community they have inadvertently destroyed, and the impact of their actions on an ancient and fragile landscape.
Shot through with humour and a quiet wisdom, this haunting first novel vividly captures the hope and the disappointment of the era when it was possible to believe in the perfectibility of both nature and humankind.
'Beautifully written . . . kindly, sometimes hilarious and ultimately very sad' Times Literary Supplement
'A peach of a first novel by a writer with a deep understanding of relationships and the outside pressures that wear away the good soil' Sunday Times