Sunshine, Akubra hats, utes and stockwhips – in Margareta Osborn’s first novel, Bella’s Run, are all the elements of a quintessentially Aussie story. Bella Vermaelon and her best friend Patty O’Hara, who grew up together in the Victorian high country, are on a “gap year” with a difference. Instead of farm girls trying life out in an international city, they have headed on a road trip and ended up filling in on a Queensland cattle station in the far north. Patty – a trainee nurse – and Bella – with a job at the Department of Agriculture – love the “jillaroo” lifestyle and its components of stock roundup, fencing and fixing, mowing lawns and gardening, and anything else that is needed.
However when two small children are injured in a motorbike accident, coinciding with a visit from Patty’s brother Will, and Bella’s cousin Macca, the girls realise that what they really want is to return to their families, and their family farms, back in the Victorian Ranges. So they load up their ute with swags and CDs and head back south. On their way though, they are distracted by the annual Nunkeri Plains Mob – a gathering of farmers, stockmen and stationhands – in far south-western New South Wales. So they detour to the Mob where they meet up with Will and Macca again, and this time neither girl can ignore the attraction they feel – Patty disappears with Macca, and Bella finds that Will is competent not only as a stockman but as a lover.
When they head home, however, an unexpected tragedy hits their community and splits everyone apart. Bella ends up spending weeks in a hospital bed, and once she recovers, she runs away from everything that reminds her of the past and heads to Melbourne and a corporate lifestyle. Eight years later, she isÂ engaged to Warren, a very high-flying financier, but can’t ignore the fact that something is missing from her life. So when her parents decide they want to go on a six-month overseas trip and take Bella’s aunt Maggie, and Maggie needs someone to babysit her farm for her, Bella decides to take this opportunity to return to her roots and sort out the past that she ran away from.
If you can get through the at-times incomprehensible Aussie Outback slang that is employed in the first half of the book, you will probably end up entranced in Bella’s story. The way that she has run from her past is probably familiar to everyone, although maybe not as geographically extreme. Still, her return to her roots in the country in physical location brings with it a better understanding of herself, and how the love of the country isn’t something that she can hide from forever. As Patty would say, you can take the girl out of the country, but not the country out of the girl.
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