Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
This novel is another interesting read from the pen of Kerry McGinnis. Using her vast experience of the outback, she has opened up this part of Australia to her readers.
Kerry McGinnis is the oldest sister in a family who run a vast station out near Lawn Hill, in North-west Queensland near the Northern Territory border. She now lives in Bundaberg but before settling here, she had experienced a life of cattle droving with her father and four siblings. Her love of this type of country is evident in her writing, which includes two volumes of memoir, Pieces of Blue and Heart Country as well as eleven fiction novels, the latest of which is Croc country.
Once referred to as ‘The Bard of Bowthorn’, the station on which they lived, she started out entering writing competitions and was first published in 1999. She admits that, although each book is separate, there are many similarities as most are set in the land she admires with its red rocky gorges, great brown rivers, crocodiles and mangroves.
This latest book is no exception as the title suggests. Many of her books involve people who have suffered great loss and, as they strive to overcome this, they are forced to come face to face with that loss again just as they are beginning to find a satisfying life.
Matilda Hillyer is overcoming the loss of her husband and young daughter who fell overboard into water that emptied into the Gulf of Carpentaria. Their bodies were never recovered. Her cousin, Sophie, had whisked her away to Binboona, the conservation park which she runs for the Wildlife Protection Association. Matilda (Tilly) became the housekeeper for Sophie and the two other workers who stayed at the homestead.
McGinnis, as well as providing beautiful descriptions of the surrounding countryside, manages to provide her characters with their own varied personalities and make them feel like real people. Sophie, in her early forties is forthright and competent with visions of expanding the area in which she is situated. Matt Mercer, the older of the two men at the homestead, and the mechanic, is quiet and secretive, rarely making eye contact with others. Luke, on the other hand, is in love with his vocation as wildlife officer, open and endlessly enthusiastic about the country and its wildlife.
Just as Tilly is accepting her loss and beginning to enjoy her new life, she is visited by policemen asking about her husband. This begins a time of suspicion and danger for all at the homestead as they go about their everyday life of rescuing wildlife and protecting the area and the campsite for travellers. McGinnis builds the tension to retain interest with poachers entering the area. This is not just a love story about the environment, there are also personal relationships that are explored as well as some of the more, unseemly behaviour which can be found in such an isolated environment.
Croc Country is an interesting read which delivers information about the life of wildlife officers and some of the hardships and dangers they experience doing their job. It also explores human relationships and what drives human behaviour. But it is the environment that makes this story so interesting. As the author herself confesses, she creates her books by starting with a character but she needs the immediate back-up of their setting, whether it be the rugged beauty of the Gulf, the flat treeless plains of mid-west Queensland or the stark ochre and red sands of the centre, to fire the story depth and a sense of place. Getting her readers to feel and see the uniqueness of that particular bit of land is as important to her as having them empathise with the protagonist. This is certainly evident in her latest book.
I thoroughly enjoyed Croc Country and look forward to reading some of the other novels by this author.