The Blue Gum Camp by Léonie Kelsall

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

I love Léonie Kelsall’s writing style. She provides a very human narrative while at the same time highlights the beauty of the flora and fauna of her beloved South Australia. Through her tales the reader becomes privy to historical and geological facts that blend naturally into the flow of the story. When reading Kelsall’s latest story, The Blue Gum Camp, it was interesting to come across landmarks which have appeared in some of her other stories such as the old paddle wheeler and the store Pies and Ploughs.

Two older siblings have been talked into going to the local B&S to spend time with their younger family members. Both are reluctant to go and feel out of their depth, but know it is the right thing to do.

The Blue Gum Camp is the location for this B&S weekend and becomes the destination for singles from far and wide. It is a chance for young people from the city and the country to come together. Language from the younger siblings suggests it is a time to let their hair down and hook up. Full of vibrant life, noise and happiness, it is a place to throw off responsibility in favour of having a good time. For some it becomes ‘a splinter of time’ where someone could pretend to be something they weren’t and ‘momentarily enjoy the charade of a life made normal’ (191).

Charity Farrugia is the oldest of three sisters and twelve years wiser than her youngest sibling. She is a primary school teacher, the sensible, conservative, reliable, practical, logical one who has taken the family in hand as her mother has lost grip of reality. Though honoured by the position she has become crushed by the responsibility and feels that she has lost most of her 20’s years to the task she has undertaken. She has agreed to go on this weekend to prove to herself she could be spontaneous while keeping an eye on Hope, her youngest sister.

Lachlan Mackenzie, a divorced farmer with a problem which leaves him tongue-tied in social situations reluctantly accompanies his more outgoing younger brother, Hamish. Lachlan and Charity cross paths and help each other during this time of being surrounded by younger revellers. Is it possible that they are the ones to find what they are looking for in this random paddock?

The dialogue in this book is witty and interesting and really enhances the storyline which is not just a romantic novel. It brings to light several issues that can have devastating effects on one’s life.  Both the mothers of these two families have illnesses which have impacted greatly on the family. Issues of self-worth, letting go, dyslexia and dementia are addressed with great compassion giving the reader a new insight into the human condition and approaches that might be taken to help lighten the journey.  It has been suggested that much in this tale mirrors the author’s life.

Although this storyline revolves around the older siblings, the behaviours and interests of the younger ones are not forgotten. This is a narrative that allows for much introspection, whether it is considering the attitudes to dating or the fears of inheriting problems that beset them or their parents.  When talking about dating Charity muses, ‘It’s weird how we’ve evolved to trying to order up a perfect match’ (75).

Léonie Kelsall also writes under the pen name, Laney Kaye and that’s where you’ll find her more steamy stories, along with best-selling Women’s Fiction/Romantic suspense, Malicious Desire. Her books can be easily identified as they usually have titles of specific places.

Her work is respected by fellow authors, and she is often referred to as an authentic rural voice especially as her stories are not restricted by genre expectations and often address darker and socially important themes which are handled with empathy and wisdom. This book, The Blue Gum Camp, reminds me so much of Nora Robert’s novels where one is left with the feeling that in the future the reader might expect to find books where each of the siblings become the main protagonists.

The Blue Gum Camp

(2024)

by Léonie Kelsall

Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 978-1-76106-787-7

$32.99; 430pp

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