When I was a kid in (junior) high school, I often used to get "posted" off to my oldest sister's house during school holidays to help with her toddlers. She lived in Queensland, and I was in Victoria, so it was a very long train trip (two days or a day and a night) and even though I took heaps of books with me, inevitably I'd soon run out.
My sister had a small library of her own books, of course, which I powered through, and one of the authors she'd collected over the years was Lucy Walker, an Australian romance writer from the 1960's. I devoured these books (and suspect that along with Georgette Heyer they helped shape me as a romance writer.)
Recently my sister was having a big clear out and she was about to give all her old Lucy Walkers to the church bazaar, when it occurred to her that I might want them. Did I want them? Yes please! They arrived in a big bundle shortly afterward.
You can tell the vintage of these books from the covers. They were old fashioned even when I was reading them, but I didn't care. I loved her tales which were often about a sheltered English girl (or occasionally a shy, well-born girl from the city) who ended up on a huge sheep or cattle station (ranch) in remote outback Australia — as a governess, or companion or just as a visitor.
The heroines weren't exactly full of derring-do — they were generally reserved, pretty and often quite shy. But they had a brand of quiet, ladylike grit and would always try, even when they were out of their depth. They also had impeccable manners and never complained, no matter what the situation.
And of course there was always the owner of the property — tough, remote, rugged, handsome, masterful and rich — the epitome of the Strong Silent Hero.
It's been decades since I read them and I must admit to some trepidation at the prospect of rereading them. I enjoyed them all those years ago — and some have stayed me all these years—and I really hope I won't find them horribly dated in an "I can't-bear-to read-them" way.
So before I dive in and reread some of my favorites let me recall a few reasons why I liked them. The descriptions of the outback were lovely — written with a genuine love of the bush and an evocative turn of phrase. They were also (to my teenage mind) very romantic.
I remember one — The Moonshiner— where the heroine, Joan Yelland, a shy, sheltered society girl from Melbourne (aka the big smoke down south) comes to visit relatives in the outback. She arrives on a plane, but must travel overland to the homestead. The river is in flood and rising, and she has to cross it on horseback. A local girl meets her — some kind of distant cousin — she's attractive, efficient, impatient and slightly scruffy and she makes shy-but-elegant Joan feel quite useless.
Of course, crossing the flooded river, Joan's mare gets into trouble, and they're both struggling when along comes a man on a big black horse…
"Right. Let go." His voice came like the crack of a stock-whip.
. . . The man leaned over and gave her his hand and pulled her half out of the water hard against his chest. His arm was like an iron band. He gave his other hand and his attention to his own horse, but he held her as naturally and easily as if he had been doing it all his life. . .
Then of course, he rides away (who was that big dark silent man?)
Shortly afterward, Efficient Girl suggests Joan take a walk and naturally her directions are so vague Joan gets lost. And who should turn up? Yes, the man on the big black horse. He takes her up on his horse and rides off into the moonlight with her, spinning her a tale about moonshiners as they go. It's a little bit dangerous, and magical and evocative and I remember it as being very romantic.
A line I've never forgotten was one where he said she had "hair like gum leaf tips in the morning" —and unless you know it, you're maybe thinking she has pale green hair. But no — this is what the gum leaf tips he's talking about look like.
Lucy Walker died in 1987, aged 80. Her books were read all across the English-speaking world — she was hugely popular in the UK as well as Australia, and I've met loads of Americans who've read her too. For several generations of woman she painted an image of Australia that many never forgot. The current wave of writers of Australian rural romance are stepping in her footsteps, even if they don't realize it.
So, did you read your mother's or your older sister's romances? What books did you read and fall in love with as a teenager? Are there any you're reluctant to reread in case your memory of them is spoilt? And have you read or heard of Lucy Walker?