AFTER an agonising year of physical suffering and loss on the personal front, trawling a network of North Queensland lava tubes for unknown insect species is exactly the professional distraction Dr Emlyn Rees needs.
In fact, the chance to focus on this brand-new research is perhaps the one positive aspect of entomologist Emlyn’s life.
Heading a project team from a university in Brisbane she arrives at Hidden Valley – about five hours’ drive north-west of Townsville – on New Year’s Eve, intent on losing herself in the workload demanded by this pioneering underground survey.
The accommodation that’s been provided grudgingly by beef producer Travis Carlyle and his socially awkward brother Gavin is filthy, the heat and humidity in the build-up to the onset of the wet is sapping and Emlyn’s colleagues are several days’ drive away, still making their way north by road. It’s a lonely introduction to Hidden Valley but, in her debilitated, distressed state, the solitude suits Emlyn perfectly.
Little by little, however, as the wary standoffishness between Emlyn and Travis begins to ease, the two find common ground in their attraction to the spectacular tunnel system that underlies a good portion of the property. Progressing from fragile truce to respectful alliance and, in time, genuinely caring friendship, the connection grows stronger with every encounter.
And, with the appearance of Emlyn’s co-workers and the beginning of their inch by inch-by-inch subterranean treasure-hunt, the prospect of finding something truly momentous mounts. The outcome of their labours, it seems, might well have the power to influence more than one person’s future.
The second novel by Seaton, who with her husband now spends winters scouring Australia for potential story locations, Undara takes its name from the real-life Undara Volcanic National Park, to which the lure of exploring the remnants of a long-ago eruption draws thousands of visitors every year.