As a Fourth-generation grazier, Nicole Alexander is perfectly placed to describe not only the physicality of the outback but the emotional toll that being in remote conditions can take. In her new book The Cedar Tree she impeccably explores this and the struggle between loyalty, love and opportunity.
Richmond Valley, 1949. Stella O’Riain has left her home after the death of her husband Joe. She has also left the grave of her baby daughter. Joe and Stella have spent all their married life living on Kirooma Station, a sheep station set on the edge of the Strzelecki Desert. Left with little money and few prospects, Stella has accepted the offer to stay with her brother-in-law, Harry who is need of help after his wife Ann injured herself. The plan is that they will help each other.
Stella also hopes to get to know more about her husband’s family. Joe cut off communication with them soon after their wedding and Stella has never known why. It might also explain why Joe was so emotionally unavailable in their marriage.
County Tipperary, Ireland 1864. Irish cousins Brandon and Sean O’Riain are also leaving their homes. Initially forced to leave, as they are wanted criminals, they also harbour the hope of creating a better life for themselves. Brandon has promised to look after his stepsister Maggie who has been inadvertently caught up in the trouble and is compelled to leave with the cousins.
By 1867 they are working as cedar-cutters in New South Wales’s lush green Richmond Valley. Sean and Brandon couldn’t be more different. Sean is unable to leave the bitterness of the past behind, but Brandon hopes to work hard and embrace everything that his new home has to offer. Sean is also a fiery character and always ready to end a disagreement with his fists.
Spanning two centuries, The Cedar Tree alternates between the two eras, weaving together the stories of Brandon and Stella, exploring the legacy of past generations – good and bad. We follow the early story of Stella and Joe, their marriage and move to remote Kirooma – a drastic change for city girl Stella and the toll that the outback and long-standing family divisions can take.
When we return to Brandon and Sean this historical family saga explores being torn between family duty and personal opportunities and the choices, they both make that Stella, Harry and his family are still grappling with.
Australian author Nicole Alexander is highly skilled at creating a very evocative outback world. Beautifully descriptive language paints a land that may at first appear bleak but with time offers up an abundance of treasures. Despite the harsh reality of this life it also binds those who live there irrevocably to this lifestyle. The Cedar Tree is a heart wrenching family saga that spans religion, family duty and life on the land. It’s well researched, written with intricate detail and it consumed most of my weekend because I didn’t want to put it down.
I’m well aware of Nicole Alexander as we have reviewed many of her previous books at Better Reading and interviewed her for our podcast Stories Behind the Story, but this was my first time reading one of her books – it certainly won’t be my last! The great thing for those who are new to Nicole Alexander is that she has an extensive backlist – that will now be added to my teetering TBR pile.