I Loved to Tell a Yarn: Q&A With The Drover’s Wife Author, Leah Purcell

I Loved to Tell a Yarn: Q&A With The Drover’s Wife Author, Leah Purcell

The creative powerhouse, Leah Purcell answers some questions for us.

The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson is a thoroughly harrowing and entirely of our times story, exploring race, gender, violence and inheritance. Can you tell us more about the book?

For me the book is about a mother’s unconditional love for her children and her identity.  The Aboriginal male character is very loosely based on my great grandfather.  I love to use facts in history as a basis, or to influence my characters’ journeys.  There are stories from the white males in my family: my father, father-in-law and my maternal great grandfather that have influenced the storyline too.

There have been a number of incarnations of this tale – from theatre to novel and now screen. Is there one that resonates with you most?

It’s hard to say as they were all rewarding in the process of creating them for the different platforms, but I guess the novel was the hardest, the newest experience and very satisfying because I got to put everything into the story, and I could let my imagination run wild.

As an artist, how difficult is it personally to bring to life a piece of this depth and intensity.  Not at all, I live for this, these challenges.  Difficult is not the word I would use to describe the process.  It’s tiring and draining but rewarding and fulfilling!

What is something that has inspired you as a writer?

My Aboriginal grandmother and mother didn’t have a voice in their time because they were Aboriginal, so they inspire me greatly in all that I do. What inspires me to write is the telling of stories that will empowerment my people, or to create an awareness and an understanding of the Indigenous plight through a universal story that everyone can relate to. I write to preserve these stories, forever, how cool is that; I write to satisfy my creativity. Writing a novel is another way to reach another kind of audience. And a way to challenge my creativity is by trying something new.  Maybe I was destined to write a novel because I always got in trouble in my early days of script writing for TV; I would always get notes back saying my big print read like a novel, and I needed to cut it back!  But even as a young girl I liked writing stories, and while I was not a very good speller or good at punctuation, I loved to tell a yarn!

What is your work day like and what are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just finished one of my biggest projects yet; I wrote, starred and directed my first feature film that had animals, children and me in the lead role!  So right now, I am in the edit for my feature!! Besides catching up on quality time with my daughter, grandchildren and my dog, I’m trying to fit back into normal life.  I am about to embark on the first leg of a small book tour – very exciting times! After all of that I’m then back to ‘Wentworth’ for Foxtel Showcase.

As a performer and writer language is important. You are a Goa, Gunggari, Wakka Wakka Murri woman. Do you speak any of these languages?  Yes. Although the fluent speakers have all long gone as back in the day mob weren’t allowed to speak their language, so a lot of the language was not passed down.  With the few words I know, I try to keep them alive in everyday language with my grandchildren and daughter.  And in my work environment, I throw the odd Aboriginal language word around. It’s great. People love it.


Harrowing and Brilliant: Read a Chapter of The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

Review | Extract

17 December 2019

Harrowing and Brilliant: Read a Chapter of The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

    Authentic and Brilliant: Read a Review of The Drover's Wife by Leah Purcell

    Review | Our Review

    17 December 2019

    Authentic and Brilliant: Read a Review of The Drover's Wife by Leah Purcell

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        Publisher details

        The Drover's Wife
        Leah Purcell
        Australian Fiction
        03 December, 2019


        Deep in the heart of Australia’s high country, along an ancient, hidden track, lives Molly Johnson and her four surviving children, another on the way. Husband Joe is away months at a time droving livestock up north, leaving his family in the bush to fend for itself. Molly’s children are her world, and life is hard and precarious with only their dog, Alligator, and a shotgun for protection – but it can be harder when Joe’s around.At just twelve years of age Molly’s eldest son Danny is the true man of the house, determined to see his mother and siblings safe – from raging floodwaters, hunger and intruders, man and reptile. Danny is mature beyond his years, but there are some things no child should see. He knows more than most just what it takes to be a drover’s wife.One night under the moon’s watch, Molly has a visitor of a different kind – a black ‘story keeper’, Yadaka. He’s on the run from authorities in the nearby town, and exchanges kindness for shelter. Both know that justice in this nation caught between two worlds can be as brutal as its landscape. But in their short time together, Yadaka shows Molly a secret truth, and the strength to imagine a different path.Full of fury and power, Leah Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson is a brave reimagining of the Henry Lawson short story that has become an Australian classic. Brilliantly plotted, it is a compelling thriller of our pioneering past that confronts head-on issues of today: race, gender, violence and inheritance.
        Leah Purcell
        About the author

        Leah Purcell

        Leah Purcell is a multi-award-winning and self-made author, playwright, actor, director, filmmaker, producer, screenwriter and showrunner. At the heart of her work are female and First Nation themes, characters and issues. The Drover’s Wife was first a play written by and starring Purcell, which premiered at Belvoir St Theatre in late 2016 and swept the board during the 2017 awards season, winning the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award for Playwriting and Book of the Year; the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Drama and the Victorian Prize for Literature; the Australian Writers’ Guild Award for Best Stage Work, Major Work and the David Williamson Prize for Excellence in Writing for Australian Theatre; the Helpmann Award for Best Play and Best New Australian Work; and the Sydney–UNESCO City of Film Award. The feature film adaptation of The Drover’s Wife, written, directed and starring Leah Purcell, is slated for a 2020 release. Leah Purcell is a proud Goa, Gunggari, Wakka Wakka Murri woman from Queensland.

        Books by Leah Purcell


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        1. Lisa O'Connor (Beresford) says:

          So excited i got your book for xmas and have started reading it.. Well written and it is a good book…can’t wait to see the film…well done leah you are amazing and i am proud to be related to you.. Lisa

        2. Mario Tedeschi says:

          Well done cus

        3. angela pieraccini says:

          Beautiful book, honest strong, loving, protective but such a inspiring book, loved it, and love the talent of leah, plus love rita in wenthworth, so I say a gifted lady