BENDIGO in the mid-1890s is an inhospitable place for any unwed mother, let alone one whose predicament is the result of a single afternoon’s alcohol-fuelled indiscretion with someone else’s sweetheart. Complicating the situation further, the father – unaware of the pregnancy – has been driven off his parents’ struggling orchard by the need to earn an income and is now living many days’ travel away in the South Australian Riverland.
A frontier goldmining town it may be, but Bendigo is nevertheless a community with clear moral standards – standards that in Mary Bonner’s case motivate the desperate teenager to follow the only course of action likely to bring redemption and marry an older stranger who agrees to assume responsibility for the coming child.
When the marriage quickly turns sour, fearing that her new husband will kill her Mary bequeaths the as-yet-unborn baby to a former schoolmate, Linley Seymour, whose aunt CeeCee runs a clandestine refuge for abused and abandoned women.
Mary’s foresight proves to be well founded and within hours of his birth the tiny boy is lifted from his dead mother’s bruised and bloodied arms and delivered to Linley.
What Toby’s ill-tempered stepfather does not know initially is that the baby was not Mary’s only possession; with him goes a substantial family inheritance willed by the terrified young wife in trust to her son.
Once realisation strikes, Gareth Wilkin’s fury snowballs.
Rather than feel relieved to be shed of “the brat”, Wilkin allows his frenzied rage to set in motion a course of vengeance that will force Linley and CeeCee out of their home and endanger a series of lives, including that of Toby’s biological father.
With colonial Bendigo, Renmark and the thriving paddlesteamer port of Echuca as its backdrop, this novel explores domestic violence as it existed more than century ago.