Wild Orchard by Isabel Dick

‘If Harriat Bracken on that fine April morning in the year 1840 had turned to the left and gone, as she had been bidden to do, straight up to her bedroom, all that is recorded here would never have happened.’

Harriat ‘Harry’ Bracken did not do as she was bidden, and instead met ‘Jan’ Halifax, a young man who had been sent to England from Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) to learn about growing hops. Harriat, the spirited daughter of a clergyman, falls in love. Jan is soon to return home to Van Diemen’s Land and he and Harriat marry, with her parents’ permission, after a very quick courtship.

Harriat leaves behind a conventional, genteel family, one in which class is important, to travel to the colonial frontier of Van Diemen’s Land. She knows nothing about Van Diemen’s Land, but she loves Jan and would follow him anywhere.  And 17-year-old Harry and 20-year-old Jan, married, eventually arrive in Hobart. They do not stay there long, moving quickly to the land that Jan’s father has left to him when he turns twenty-one.

What follows is a heart-warming tale of survival against the odds, of triumph against adversity, of the power of friendship. Harry may not know much about living in the bush without assistance, but she quickly learns. She contends with an assigned servant who becomes a danger to her and her new-born child, she makes friends with the other settlers who live near by and she supports Jan. Jan has his own tribulations: family members who have taken his property require him to relocate to Hobart for a while.

Ms Dick ‘s novel touches briefly on the dispossession of the Indigenous occupants.  She also has Harry meeting one of Tasmania’s more infamous bushrangers, Martin Cash. The novel ends as the Halifaxes are on the path to success. They complement each other perfectly, they are surrounded by good neighbours, and the land is full of promise.

This novel was published in 1946, and while it glosses over some of the negative aspects of colonial settlement, it does not ignore them. It is an easy, heart-warming read, which left me wondering what might happen next.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



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