The Rivertown Vet by Jennifer Scoullar

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

Australia is fortunate in the 2020s to have so many talented writers who celebrate the Australian landscape while at the same time presenting heartwarming human stories. Jennifer Scoullar is one such author. Her latest Australian rural fiction, The Rivertown Vet, which is her thirteenth offering, is set in rural South Australia. Her books contain beautiful, detailed descriptions of the environment as well as interesting and realistic characters in complex social situations.

Inspiration for this story came from the animal conservation work undertaken by the Aussie Ark Project of creating sanctuaries for endangered animals, restoring natural habitats and providing educational benefits.

Who would have thought that getting stuck in a wombat burrow could have taken so many pages to describe and been such entertaining reading. Yet this is how the author’s latest story begins and I was hooked straight away. Jana Malinski is a vet and with her sister is part of a state-wide research team with a focus on the hairy-nosed wombat. Her rescuer, at this time, is the last person she wished ever to see again.

Mark Bell is trying to adjust his life to suit parenting a twelve-year old daughter who is almost a stranger to him. He has left a rewarding, prestigious career in the city for a slower paced country town where his daughter will have the support of relatives. He finds himself drawn to the vet although she is sending off confusing signals. When his work presents the challenge of finding a solution for the future of the local zoo, these two are thrown into the same orbit.

Jana is given the opportunity to revive the rundown zoo and at the same time receive help in the family enterprise. However, this will require her to work with a man who she believes was instrumental in her parents being in the wrong place at the wrong time, impacting negatively on all their lives. The past keeps impacting on her present life creating tension she could do without as she is under pressure to reopen the zoo in a specified time frame.

This is quite a complex story which addresses several issues of importance. A wide range of emotions are embedded in this tale, centred around personal relationships, animal welfare, time management and financial pressures. Within the personal relationships spectrum is the issue of single parenting, school life, bullying, and the need to feel useful in older life. Each of the central characters has their own storyline yet these all blend in beautifully with each other. The reader gains information on animal welfare and the running of a modern enterprise, which sometimes, draws unwanted attention.

Jennifer Scoullar’s deep appreciation and respect for the natural world shines through her writing and plays a major role in this story. Her description of a melaleuca tree is a good example. She tells how its bark is textured and weathered like the pages of an ancient book, each layer peeling away to reveal a palette of soft ochres, burnished browns and whispers of pale gold (1).

The dedication of people working with animals is highlighted through the relationships which develop. This is especially obvious in the storylines about the young daughter, Kylie, and the older woman, Hazel, who was the original founder of the zoo. The story shows how children and animals can help remind adults about what is really important in life.

I found this to be a thoroughly enlightening story with many ups and downs and enjoyed getting to know all the people involved in the endeavour of saving the zoo. It was a story which shows how our actions at all stages of our lives can have a major impact on others and how sometimes we have to learn to let go of any resentment caused by the past so that we can move forward with openness and love.

The Rivertown Vet


by Jennifer Scoullar

Michael Joseph


$34.99; 384pp


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