I am grateful to have reacquired recently a copy of this novel, by the Australian author and environmentalist Hesba Fay Brinsmead (1922 – 2003). The copy I had as a child got chewed up by the family dog and for ages all I could remember about the book was this beautiful cover and that it had a heroine called Ryl. Pastures of the Blue Crane was first published in 1964; this Oxford University Press edition was produced in 1970. It is Brinsmead’s most well-known work and was made into a television series for the Australian Broadcasting Company in 1969.
The novel opens in a Melbourne summer (November). Sixteen-year-old Amaryllis Jane Merewether, known as Ryl, is leaving school. She believes she is all alone in the world. Her mother is mysteriously absent and her father has long ago abandoned her into the care of his lawyer, who has acted as her guardian and placed her in a series of boarding schools. No demure heroine, Ryl is “calculating, self-centred… and yet not without flashes of charm”. Through “the judicious habit of present-giving” she has won invites from school fellows so that she doesn’t have to remain at school during the holidays. Now her lawyer-guardian tells Ryl that her father has died and that she has jointly inherited his substantial estate with her previously unknown grandfather, Dusty. They meet for the first time in the lawyer’s office and at first sight seem an ill-suited pair. Their crusty relationship is explored as they find themselves co-owners of a farm called Bundoora in Murwillumbah, North New South Wales. It turns out that this is the place where Dusty was born and raised. On her first morning Ryl is woken by the sun and looks out to see the glittering landscape: a ‘fanciful’ pasture of rosy pink grass crested with silver and within it a ‘fanciful’ bird – the blue crane. Dusty and Ryl have very different ideas about what to do with their property - and about spending the money they have inherited. Through her encounters with this remote community, and ultimately her shared battle with Dusty to preserve their home, Ryl finds love, friendship, family, and her future career path, as well as discovering the truth about her parentage. The novel’s treatment of themes related to age, race, gender and the secret shame of families is somewhat antiquated now but must have been both fresh and daring at the time. Pastures of the Blue Crane is a well-crafted ‘coming-of-age’ novel , which casts a fascinating light on aspects of life in 1960s Australia.