Reviewed by Rod McLary
Ridgeview Station is set in the Australian outback. Five years before the time of the novel, Peter and his wife Kelsie sold their farm on the coast and bought this large pastoral station – Ridgeview. They live and work on the station along with Kelsie’s parents Jack and Lisa. After record rain and abundant growth, the current season is going to be a successful one. But – and there is always a ‘but’ – the four owners will soon face a major event which may destroy all they have worked for.
To assist them in mustering the increased stock due to the good season, Peter and Kelsie call in a favour from their neighbours. The neighbours offer their backpacking roustabout. What no one on Ridgeview Station is expecting is that the roustabout is an attractive young woman from Estonia. This initial confusion allows for some latent sexism to emerge but that is soon dissipated – or exacerbated – when Alexi demonstrates her expertise in riding a motorbike. Her other function in the early stages of the novel – apart from creating some sexual tension – is to allow the owners to explain to the reader the Australian vernacular and some of the more esoteric tasks on a sheep station. It is not long though before Alexi proves her worth and demonstrates skills which gain the approval of all.
Into this mix is added two young men – one indigenous and married and the other single and good looking. Later in the novel, a retired stockman returns to help out. He is all the reader would expect him to be – tough, laconic, knows the station backwards, and has a heart of gold.
In telling the story of Ridgeview, the author touches on various themes in the Australian outback – the marginalisation of the indigenous people, the pressure applied by the banks to ensure a good return on their investment, the bloody-mindedness of bureaucrats [especially at times of trouble], and the unreliability of nature.
If this all sounds rather cliched, that’s because it is. There is nothing new or challenging in the novel. The reader can easily foresee the developments in the story – whether it is the potential disaster facing the station, the slow-growing romance between Alexi and Ash, the story of the sheep dogs which runs alongside the main story – and there are no surprises.
There is also little characterisation in the novel. It takes some time to remember who is whom – particularly the four owners who seem almost interchangeable. It is even challenging at first to separate the two young men. The most readily identifiable characters are Alexi – the backpacker – and Kev – the retired stockman – but they also are cliched characters and their part in what later takes place can be anticipated from much earlier in the book.
But for all that, the story does have a certain momentum and the reader begins to hope that it all works out well for the characters. It is essentially a ‘yarn’. The reader can almost imagine some old timer telling the story of Ridgeview Station over a beer and a fag on the back verandah of the local pub. It is a very Australian story and the author is drawing on his experiences from when he ran a sheep station – a source which he explicitly acknowledges. Michael Trant’s depth of experience is demonstrated in the detail of the story. However, that alone does not make a good novel.
In the Acknowledgements, the author says in reference to his experience in running a sheep station ‘although things didn’t go quite according to plan, I look back with fondness’. There seems to be a story here which may be worth the telling.
Ridgeview Station is Michael Trant’s first novel after running a blog – Farmers Way of Life – for 16 years. The blog was listed as a Rural Blog of Significance by the National Library in 2013.
By Michael Trant
Allen & Unwin
ISBN 978 1 76029 420 5