Sydney, Christmas, 1901. Federation has been achieved but Australian women are yet to gain the right to vote in their new nation's elections and have a say in the laws that govern them. Bolshy, boisterous Frankie Merriweather is a fervent advocate for women's rights, determined to dedicate herself to the cause, never marrying or becoming a mother. She can't understand her artistic sister Ivy, who wants a life of ease and beauty with her soon-to-be fiance, law student Patrick Earle. Meanwhile, their married sister Aggie volunteers in an orphanage, decrying the inequality of Australia's social classes ... and longing to hold a baby in her arms. When an accident takes Ivy, wounded and ill, into the violent and lawless zone of the Hawkesbury River, a year of change begins. Ivy's burgeoning friendship with her saviour Riley Logan, a smuggler, and his sister, the poverty-stricken but valiant Fiona, will alter the lives of all three women forever.