This Place You Know

I ache for these women. They endure so much and still, through their determination and resilience, they triumph.
Elizabeth Hanscombe, author of The Art of Disappearing

This Place You Know is a beautifully written book by Australian author, Christina Marigold Houen.

The story is based on the memoirs of the author’s mother, and on her own childhood memories. A young academic, Martha, comes to the small country town of Hay in 1923 to begin her career as a teacher. She is a highly intelligent academic, well-read and she has strong feelings regarding society and her role in it.

She meets Henry, a debonair and handsome young man who has a dream of raising merino sheep on a riverside property. Martha and Henry marry after a respectable courtship and embark on his farming adventure. Both are hard-workers; their love is passionate and very physical which Martha revels in. She becomes pregnant, but along with the babies, come challenging times with drought, dust storms and the Great Depression.

Their dreams erode. Henry struggles to be the husband Martha expects him to be. Instead he finds solace in drinking and being with another woman. Martha endures hardship due to his betrayal – both physical and emotional. Eventually, Henry leaves her and his children, the youngest being 7-year-old Anna.

Anna’s two big brothers and her older sister, are away at boarding school. Martha determinedly runs the farm by herself with Anna as her companion and help-mate. The relationship between them is full of love but also frustration and pain. But their bond remains strong and in second half of the book, told poignantly through Anna’s eyes, we see her journey to adulthood and the ultimate affect of her father’s abandonment.

I love the truth in this book and the bravery of the women in it. When we think of Australian pioneer woman, forging through the hard times of the droughts and the Great Depression, we often read of women who were brought up on farms, married farmers, and endured hardships with an initial understanding of farming life.

In Martha’s case, she was a city girl. A scholar, passionate and intelligent, but not equipped to living in a home with no running water, primitive cooking facilities, and no close family to help her birth and bring up her children. Despite this, she threw herself into being the type of wife she thought Henry wanted. Ultimately, she proved to be a stronger person than he was and when he gave up, she did not. That strength translated to her daughter Anna and her other children.

Christina Houen brings to vivid life not only her mother’s story, but her own childhood. The details of her family, her surroundings and the importance of her mother’s sacrifices, all make This Place You Know compelling reading.

Click HERE to watch the book trailer for This Place You Know