The Year of the Farmer by Rosalie Ham. Here is a brilliant, satirical evocation of Australian rural life. Mitch Bishop’s farm is going to hell in a handbasket, owing mainly to drought. Water is more precious than gold, and is in dwindling supply. Worse than all of that, he’s married to the hideous Mandy, when Neralie Mackintosh has always been the girl in his heart. And there are water cheats about.
I have a mental picture of Jane Austen sitting at her little writing table, her button boots naughtily up on another chair, snorting with laughter as she reads The Year of the Farmer. Oh, this writer knows, says Jane. She knows how people work. I see and hear these country Australians as clear as daylight.
The Ballad of Banjo Crossing by Tess Evans. And here’s another novel set in country Australia, where the small community of Banjo Crossing is put under the spotlight. Outsider Jack McPhail wanders into Banjo Crossing by accident, on the run from his past, and gets drawn in to local life. It’s a workmanlike assemblage, but I could see the marionette strings at work, and it has none of the earthy humour and acid wit of Rosalie Ham. No contest.