The Travelling Heart: a journey with author Darry Fraser
LATITUDE 35.9667° S, LONGITUDE 145.6500° E
This month, The Travelling Heart talks to author Darry Fraser about the settings that inspired her historical rural romances.
What romantic destinations have you chosen for your novels, and why?
Daughter of the Murray and Where The Murray River Runs are set on the banks of the Murray River, in Victoria, Australia. The Murray River has been in my blood since the mid sixties when as a child the family moved to Swan Hill for Dad’s job. I guess country has always been in my blood though I’m the only one of three kids all born in the city who took to the bush as soon as I could. There’s a serenity about the river, and it has a strength that, even though we humans continue to muck it up, seems to say that no matter what, it will prevail. It truly is a mighty river.
For The Widow of Ballarat (out Nov 2018) the setting is the Ballarat goldfields and it opens immediately after the Eureka stockade battle in 1854. My premise here was that while women continued to struggle as chattels in a marriage, the working man did not have a vote until after the Eureka crisis. The new miner’s right paper stated that anyone who paid for the paper would have a vote. At the time, it wasn’t gender specific – by accident. Had women been as one, and ready, they might have secured a vote in the 1860s. But as that didn’t happen, women who had found themselves independent on the goldfields were once again relegated to the kitchen by the end of the boom.
How book-worthy are your settings?
There’s writer’s romance to a river setting, no question. Plenty of authors would have used the Murray, notably one, Nancy Cato, author of the Australian classic, All The Rivers Run. Her work wasn’t what inspired me to pen Daughter of the Murray (in 1982-3!) – I hadn’t read anything of hers by then. (I have now). I was drawn to the river as a setting because of the romance of the paddle steamer era – the mid to late 19th century. It was by no means a ‘romantic’ life in those days on the river, but the stories are rich and diverse, and pioneering women featured strongly alongside their men.
There are many stories set on the 19th century goldfields across the country. It offers all the stuff of great tales: adventure, intrigue, rags-to-riches (and mostly back to rags again), and of great adversity.
Did you discover any intriguing facts or snippets of local history when you researched your settings?
I learned that there are a number of young women I know who are not aware how hard women of bygone days fought for their rights. Around the time my Murray stories are set – the 1890s – it was dawning on women that they were winning the right to vote, and that it was hard won; nothing was going to stop them. Domestic violence was rife, and that was another thing some are not aware of: that it has been going on forever, often protected by misinterpretation of the law. I try to weave historical facts into my fictional characters lives so that the reader is not hit over the head with a history lesson.
While I love a good adventure anywhere, I find it much more difficult to write about a 19th century city than I do about a bush setting where the heroine can dash about on a horse – or on foot, or on a good old paddle steamer.
On the goldfields, the place was a robust mix of almost all nationalities on earth at the time; for instance, at Ballarat over thirty thousand Chinese people arrived, mostly men. Local Aboriginal people were clever traders, and did well selling meat and skins.
The Murray River runs less swiftly now than in the past, I understand?
In my own way, I hope to bring awareness of the river’s present plight; to remind people that there was a time before the horrible carp, when the water of the river was clear and you could see the bottom in places, before Cubby Station and et el, before the criminal water hoarders. Although governments continue to fight over water rights on the river, I hope we are reminded that we don’t own it, it belongs to itself, and that we should be looking after it, much better than we are.
The Travelling Heart is convinced; if only we could visit by horse and carriage and visit regional Victoria in the 1890s for ourselves …
♥ Romantic? Yes
♥ Book-worthy? Yes
♥ Intriguing? Yes
The Murray River and Ballarat are definitely joining The Travelling Heart’s list of romantic destinations for book lovers.