‘You were right, you know,’ Meg called. ‘Sheilas have to be brave every bloody day. Men just need it in bursts, the bastards.’


Joy Rhoades, author of The Woolgrower’s Companion, joins the growing ranks of very fine Australian authors, Jane Harper among them, currently making their mark.

Partially inspired by the recollections of Rhoades’ own grandmother, Gladys Wyndham Mueller-Chateau, a fifth-generation grazier, the book opens in 1940s’ Australia, where protagonist Kate and her embittered father, Ralph, await the arrival of the Italian POW cheap labour assigned to work on Amiens, their farm in New South Wales.

Kate is a woman of a certain class, expected to wear gloves and behave impeccably, and used to having the men in her life make decisions for her. Times are changing though – the men, Kate’s husband, Jack, included, are away at war, and Kate’s father has made a series of bad decisions that threaten Amiens with bankruptcy.

In a world in which nothing is but what is not, Kate faces unexpected challenges – from those of her own class who expect her to fail, the climate, which is dry and unforgiving, and from those closest to her. And she is increasingly unsettled by the presence of Luca Canali, one of the POWs.

Rhoades authentically creates the landscape of, and life in, NSW during the war. Kate, like many women of her generation, suddenly finds herself living in a completely different world, where everything has shifted and she has to prove that she is more than just a man’s possession, an object to be admired, that she has worth. Her own changing circumstances, her father, mired in grief and also suffering from PTSD, and the brutal prejudices of the locals, not just towards the Italian prisoners, but to the aboriginal population at large, all serve to shock Kate to the reality of her situation and force her to face big, important issues head on.

The Woolgrower’s Companion is more than just a well-formed historical saga: it’s a book that brings to the fore issues very relevant to our own times – racism, misogyny, class, gender conflict and human rights – while still managing to celebrate Australia, its people and its past.


The Woolgrower’s Companion| Joy Rhoades | Vintage | 28 June 2018 | paperback | £8.99


Acknowledgements: This review is published as part of the The Woolgrower’s Companion digital tour. Quote at the beginning of the review © Joy Rhoades 2017. Many thanks to Sian Devine at Vintage for organising it and for supplying a review copy. Photography © The Literary Shed 2018. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.


Also of interest:Lisa Ko’s The Leavers: Dialogue’s brilliant debut’; ‘20 books this summer challenge‘; ‘Soundings – in search of one father’s war’ (art review); ‘Mary Monro’s Stranger in My Heart‘; ‘Only Remembered edited by Michael Morpurgo’; ‘Johana Gustawsson’s Keeper –indie publisher, Orenda, does it again‘; ‘We should all be feminists’; ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut – The Dry’; ‘Force of Nature – aka Where’s Alice Russell?’; Nora Roberts Come Sundown – a tale of strong women‘; How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original Penguin Ten’; ‘Book covers we love – Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday’.


This review is © 2018 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.