Welcome to Nowhere River by Meg Bignell

Reviewed by Rod McLary

The town of Nowhere River is a small town in the Central Highlands of Tasmania not too far from Hobart – it has suffered and continues to suffer from a long drought.  Like many other small country towns across Australia, Nowhere River is slowly dying.

This heart-warming and affectionate story centres on four key characters – all women and in their own ways all strong, capable women.  There is Carra married to the local GP Dr Duncan Finlay and the envy of every other woman in town; Lucie – Duncan’s mother and Carra’s mother-in-law – who has tragedy in her family history; Josie – a strong and capable woman married to Jerry, a farmer; and her daughter Flo, a shy sixteen-year-old, who discovers a confidence in herself which was as surprising as it was unexpected.

The four women are surrounded by local characters each acutely drawn.  There can be no way that any one of them could be confused with any other.  The author has described each of them without caricature or satire while at the same time providing for some individual eccentricity.  In an interesting and novel way, the author has placed at the end of each chapter a vignette about each person in his/her own words.  Some are humorous, some sad, a few bitter – but all contribute to the narrative.

There are men too in Nowhere River, but they are less important – Nowhere River is a woman’s town.  This can be no better stated than it was by Mrs Patricia Montgomery, President of the St Margery’s Ladies Club, when she spoke at a public meeting:

It’s just that, what with tens of thousands of years of oppression, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, of thankless, endless, fettered, apron-strung labour, and of persistent, flippant, baseless and frankly ball-less belittling by jackanapes like you [an anonymous man at the back of the room], I considered it the women’s turn to be in receipt of some sort of edification. [72]

But, as always, there is one person who has a perspective different from everyone else’s; and, in Nowhere River, it is Mrs Georgina Pfaff, owner of the local shop, who says quite bluntly ‘I’ve been working in retail for over thirty years and pretty much everyone’s a fuckwit’ [223].  Mrs Pfaff is not the only person in town with a capacity for a direct no-nonsense turn of phrase but it is more fun to read these as they present themselves through the book.

While there is humour and fun as the story progresses, there is also an undercurrent of pain and suffering.  Some thirty years previously, Lucie’s and her husband Len’s daughter disappeared at age five while playing hide-and-seek and was never seen again.  This unresolved tragedy resonates through Lucie’s and Len’s lives but also through the life of the town which is sensitively acknowledged at the conclusion of the story.  Josie’s husband Jerry is seriously injured while loading his truck.  He ‘was hit from behind by a great force and thrown violently against the tray of the truck’ and consequently spends some weeks in a coma [119].  Carra – despite being married to Duncan – is struggling with the concept of marriage and believes that if she ‘shares any more of herself, there will be nothing left … just dust’ [299].

Patricia Montgomery in her usual patrician way [pun intended] conceives of a ‘Miss Fresh and Lovely’ competition to improve the town and its environs and attract a larger population.  This competition and the resultant competitiveness between the various entrants offer humorous insight into the dynamics of a small town.

Overall, Welcome to Nowhere River is a great read – it is in turn humorous, sad, tragic, heart-warming and heartbreaking.  The characters are finely drawn and the conclusion is as authentic as the narrative.  In an intriguing coda to the novel, the Epilogue suggests that Nowhere River is a real town but has now changed its name.  Reassuringly though, ‘it still has its characters and quirks, its grumbles and mutterings’ [379].

Highly recommended.

Meg Bignell writes almost every day – occasionally sings and performs cabaret.  She grew up on the banks of the Derwent River and now lives on a dairy farm on Tasmania’s East Coast.  Welcome to Nowhere River is her second novel and followed The Sparkle Pages published in 2019.

Welcome to Nowhere River


by Meg Bignell

Michael Joseph

ISBN 978 0 14379 046 4

$34.99; 388pp

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