A sweeping Australian saga of one woman’s impossible choice between family and freedom.
With her home and freedom on the line, will her family force her to leave it all behind?
1937 – Seventeen year old Marina Fairbrother has lived in the small logging town of Mole Creek, Tasmania, her whole life. When she meets Jory Trevelyan, she is intrigued by the young man with the strange name and his tales of the west coast. Stories of wild winds and a tumultuous sea leave her hungering for a freedom she hadn’t realised she lacked.
1993 – After a terminal diagnosis, Marina knows there is only one place she wants to spend her remaining days. The remote coastal property of Noamunga has been her home for the past fifty years. Her memories are imprinted on the walls of the house and the rocks of the cliffs. Here she raised their three children, loved deeply, survived a war, worked hard, grieved deeply and lived a good life.
But there are forces that threaten to pull her away from her beloved home. Daughters whose well-intentioned concerns hide selfish ambition, a son who puts his future in the hands of the wrong people, and an oil company intent on striking oil just off the coast of her land.
Praise for White Sands of Summer
‘A wonderful story of family, relationships, love, stamina and business. A great read!’ – Beauty & Lace
It was called Noamunga, the Fishing Place, and it lay in the roaring forties, latitude 42 degrees south, at the edge of the Southern Ocean.
With its two hundred acres of scrub and rough pasture, the house stood on a barren stretch of the Tasmanian coast, the nearest settlement an hour’s walk away on the far side of the Wombat Ridge, a wall of rock and gale-pruned scrub one hundred and eighty metres high that separated the coastal strip from the hinterland. Noamunga had no neighbours; there’d been one once, but now that building was deserted, a roosting place for ravens, the grave untended.
The house faced due west; the nearest land on that latitude was the east coast of Patagonia, twelve thousand kilometres away. To withstand the violent storms, the house was anchored by massive steel hawsers to the rock on which it stood. When the gales were at their strongest, the hawsers vibrated like the strings of an enormous guitar, bringing the music of the ocean’s depths to the listener. When the king tides were running, the breakers—over six metres high in the frequent westerly gales—sent spray arching high over the house. As old man Marrek had told Marina years before, life at Noamunga was like having your feet in the ocean twenty-four hours a day.
It was a stern existence amid the wild thunder of the waves, but to Marina Trevelyan it was the closest to heaven she expected to get in this life.
It was 10 October, darling Jory’s birthday, and for Marina the journey was over at last.
The skies were clear, the sun still high, although with the approach of evening it had already begun its westward slant. As the taxi crested the last hill and began the steep descent to the house, Marina—named for the ocean by a romantic father who had not seen the sea more than a dozen times in his life—wound down the car’s window and looked out, excited as any teenager. She saw the waves arching, foam-streaked, creating a blaze of silver fire as they smashed against the grey-shining rocks, streaming with water, that marked the limits of the land. She breathed the salty air, purging her skin of the hospital smell—a mixture of disinfectant and decrepitude—that had clung to her like an infection since, against the doctor’s advice, she had signed herself out of the hospital that morning. She heard the rhythmic concussion of the breakers as they waged their endless war against the iron-hard rocks of the land, bursting in ruin at the end of their gale-borne journey from the southern extremities of South America before being sucked back in a grate of shingle into the ocean’s depths. The drop-off here was very steep.
‘I feel I’m out of jail,’ she said to the driver at her side: Marina had never been one to lounge in the back seat like a latter-day Queen of Sheba.
‘Pretty remote place you got here,’ the driver said.
‘I know. Wonderful, isn’t it?’
‘No shops. Nothing. How d’you manage?’
With joy in my heart, Marina thought, but she smiled and did not answer, not wishing to embarrass him.
‘Got a car?’
‘Oh yes. I go into town every couple of weeks to stock up.’
‘Meat and stuﬀ, I suppose.’
The tyres crunched as the car braked to a halt outside the house. ‘Not much into meat,’ Marina said. ‘I eat mostly ﬁsh and I catch them for myself. And there are plenty of prawns in the rock pools. Crayﬁsh, too, sometimes.’
‘You got anyone waiting for you?’
He was a young man but showed more concern than many his age.
‘Nope. In solitary glory, that’s me.’ She threw open the car door and leapt out, stumbling a little in her haste. She breathed deeply, drawing into her body the mingled riches of kelp and sea and joy, while the sun poured its rays upon the vastness of the ocean, blue and gold and ﬂashing silver, that extended to an empty horizon. She might have kicked oﬀ her shoes and danced barefoot on the shingle, had she not feared the young man might be alarmed by such antics in a woman who he probably thought would be better oﬀ in a wheelchair.
‘Sure you’ll be okay?’ he said. ‘Seeing you’re just out of hospital.’ ‘I’ll be ﬁne,’ Marina said.
Still he persisted. ‘Long way from anyone. All alone …’
‘I’m not completely cut oﬀ,’ she said. ‘I got them to put in a telephone line.’
‘Generator,’ she said.
There was a cry of gulls overhead, a ﬂash of white wings burnished by sunlight.
‘You see?’ she said. ‘They’re welcoming me home.’ Wind-borne spray blew, teasing her grey hair into knots, ﬂattening her dress against her slender body. She waved her arms at the rocks, sea and sky. ‘How can I be alone when I’ve got all this around me?’
Although it was nice of him to care.
‘Okay, then. If you’re sure.’
He took her case from the car boot and carried it into the house for her.
‘I could have managed it all right but it’s kind of you. Thank you very much.’
She paid him and stood at the door, waving, as he drove away. She watched the car drive up the bumpy track to the crest of the hill behind the house. The engine sound died as it disappeared over the ridge. Now there was only the wind, the crying of the gulls and the rhythmic crash of the waves.
She went into the house and closed the door behind her. She stood breathing in the stillness. For the moment there was no pain, although no doubt it would return. It was enough to be home, sur-rounded by all she held dear, her possessions and memories.
There was a side table with photographs. She looked at them one by one, holding them in loving hands as she always did when she’d been away. Husband Jory when she’d ﬁrst known him as a young man, and in later life. Nothing of the skeleton he’d been, barely rec-ognisable and struggling to walk, when he’d come back from Baron Mitsui’s coalmine after the war. The three kids, as children and as adults: all of them so diﬀerent, all of them so loved.
Charlotte, the oldest, was married to Hector Ballantyne, number two at Trident Oil’s Australian subsidiary. For twenty-four years Charlotte had played to perfection her role of dutiful wife, subser-vient to her husband’s wishes and commands; but she’d not fooled her mother for a moment. Marina suspected Hector had never realised it—when it came to this sort of thing it was easy to fool a man—but in Charlotte he had a tiger by the tail, a tiger who would drag him to the top of the tree if she had to use claws and teeth to do it.
Tamsyn, her second daughter, was a senior manager at a com-pany called Hobart Tours, which arranged tours by sea and land not only around Tasmania but in other countries, too. She was successful, determined, and as stubborn as Marina herself was supposed to be—although Marina had always stubbornly refused to admit it.
The third child, Gregory, was a reckless man—some, including his two sisters, would have said irresponsible—a head-in-the-clouds romantic who was currently trying to develop a resort on one of the Andaman Sea islands oﬀ Thailand’s west coast. Still, no doubt, surrounded by girls; still, no doubt, without a clue where the next penny was coming from.
The ﬁnal photograph was an old one of her parents, who had died within days of each other as they had lived, in the wooden shack that their ancestor Jethro Fairbrother had thrown together in the middle of the previous century, deep in the forests of the West-ern Tiers mountains. In that tiny house they had raised their brood of kids, of whom Marina, at seventy-three, was the last survivor.
The past, present and—hopefully—the future were represented in the dozen or so photographs that stood like household gods, their purpose to keep her safe in her declining years.
Which, if the hospital doctor’s opinion was anything to go by, were likely to be few.
‘Three months,’ he’d said. ‘Six if you’re lucky.’
He’d wanted her to have more tests but Marina had refused.
‘No time for that. If six months is the best I can hope for, I’m not going to waste them hanging about in hospital feeling sorry for myself.’ And over his protests had discharged herself the same day. ‘Home, James,’ she’d said. ‘And don’t spare the horse power.’
Although, as it turned out, the taxi driver had been called Percy. She went through the house, drawing back the curtains and opening the windows to let the wind blow through. She changed into jeans and a heavy ﬂannel shirt, went out to the shed at the back of the house and ﬁred up the generator. She checked, as she always did, and found there was plenty of fuel. As there always was. She had a look at the sheep grazing in the paddock that ran steeply uphill behind the house; they, too, seemed ﬁne. That was the bless-ing of sheep; leave them if you were away for a day or two and they managed ﬁne by themselves. She’d often thought that, in country like this, they might do better with two short legs and two long ones, to help them balance on the steep ground, but they seemed to manage ﬁne with all four legs the normal length.
She walked back into the house, made herself a cup of coﬀee and went and sat on the verandah facing the sea. The verandah was in two sections: the part where she sat now was exposed to the ele-ments; the smaller section, complete with a small table and a chair, was protected from the frequent rain by a sheet of reinforced glass. It was an experience to sit there in times of storm, when the world was an explosion of water and the house creaked in the gale-force wind.
Now, with the weather calmer than was usual in these parts, she chose the verandah’s open end. The westerly wind blew strong and fresh and cold, the breakers roared, curving in green tumult on the shore below the house, and Marina was at peace. She’d read once that the Earth, like all the planets, had been created from inﬁnitesi-mally small particles of dust formed when the sun came into being. Later the dust had coalesced into Earth, Mars, Venus and the rest. Now she watched the seas doing what they could to grind the rocks back into the dust from which, if the theory were correct, they’d been formed.
Good luck with that, she thought. Hang around a few bil-lion years and you might see it happen, but she didn’t have a few billion years.
Three months, the doctor had said. Six, if you’re lucky.
Dust to dust, Marina thought. Like the rocks below the house. No matter; she would take each day as it came, as she had all her life. When she had run out of days she would stop, as everyone did, sooner or later. Hopefully with the sound of the sea and crying gulls in her ears.
The sun was well down towards the horizon and it was getting chilly, so she picked up her empty cup and went indoors. There was a ﬁre laid in the pot-bellied stove in the sitting room. She knelt down and put a match to it. Flames ﬂared, kindling crackled and soon the logs were blazing away, with the heat beginning to per-colate through the room. She left her bedroom door open so that room could warm, too, as the evening progressed. She drew the curtains and sat down in her favourite armchair, the one where she could raise the end to support her feet. She leant back and looked around her: at the ﬁrelight shifting on the furniture, the shelves of books along the walls. Hundreds of books decorating her walls, decorating her mind. Outside, in the gathering darkness, the waves and wind were tirelessly at work, but here indoors, surrounded by the family photographs, Marina found the room with its crackling ﬁre a haven of peace in which she felt her weary nerves unwinding after the tensions of recent days.
She wasn’t hungry but knew she should eat something. On the way home from the hospital she’d persuaded Percy to stop at a supermarket where she’d bought soup, a loaf of French bread, some butter and a slice of gloriously stinky cheese; that would do her very well for this evening, but there was one thing more she must do before she could settle down to eat. She had to let Tamsyn know what her delinquent mother had done. She’d discovered that was one of the burdens of age: the obligation to let at least someone in the family know what was going on.
I’ll put it in my diary, she thought. Remember to tell them when I’m dead.
She sighed; was it her imagination, or had things really been so much less complicated when she’d been young?
She looked at her watch. Just after seven. It was a Sunday, so with any luck her always-busy daughter might be home. She picked up the phone.
Tamsyn answered on the second ring. ‘Trevelyan …’
Her take-no-prisoners voice. It was a good line; Tamsyn might have been in the next room instead of on the other side of the island.
‘Mum!’ She heard the change of tone, the built-in smile that had been conspicuously absent before. ‘How you doing?’
‘Very well, thank you. I’m just going to make myself a bowl of soup.’
A moment’s silence on the other end of the phone. ‘I don’t under-stand. Surely the hospital—’
‘I’m not in the hospital. I’m home.’
‘They discharged you?’
‘Far from it. They wanted me to stay for further tests. On the other hand, I wanted to come home—it was so stuﬀy in there, I felt I couldn’t breathe—so home I came and there was nothing the doctor could do about it. Poor man, he was quite cross with me.’ She smiled, remembering his indignant expression. ‘They get their way too often, I think. It gives them the false idea they have the right to boss people about.’
‘He didn’t give you any prognosis?’
‘He did, indeed.’
‘What did he say?’
‘I’m ﬁghting ﬁt.’
‘He said that?’
‘No. I say it.’
Silence again, more prolonged this time.
‘I think I should maybe hop over and see you this weekend. Unless you’re oﬀ somewhere.’
‘That will be lovely. Will you be driving?’
‘It’s too far. I’ll use the helicopter.’
Marina hated the noisy brute, disturbing her peace, but supposed it made sense.
‘I’ll organise some lunch for us. And I’m not going anywhere. Why should I? I’m home, with the sea and the wind for company. Nothing better.’
‘I’ll see you Sunday, then,’ Tamsyn said, and rang oﬀ. Her daughter had never been one for small talk.
Marina replaced the receiver and leant back in her chair, luxu-riating in its comfort. The house was still, the room ﬁlled with the ﬂicker of ﬁrelight. In the darkness the sound of the breakers was a constant companion.
Three months. Six if you’re lucky.
She supposed she could call it a death sentence. What had Dr Johnson said? When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully. Something like that. Now, facing that prospect, she came to another, and totally untroubled, conclu-sion. The doctor had given her not a sentence of death, but of life. Three months, six months: an eternity, looked at in the right way. So many days, so many hours, minutes and seconds, to savour life to its full. She felt full of love: for the life she’d had and still had, for its ﬂavour and freedom, for the private world in which she was happy, for Jory, who’d died so young but whom she would love until her last breath, for the children they’d made together, for all the events, good and bad, that had created the cosmos of her life.
It would give her such pleasure to prove that self-important doc-tor wrong, if she could. She would make it her business to live her life to the full, to waste not even a second in the futility of despair and regret.
‘I am not afraid,’ she told the quiet room.
It was true. The end would come eventually, as it did to every-body; in the meantime she would be happy. She would live.
She heated up some soup and ate it with a buttered slice from the French loaf. The heat from the soup slid slowly through her.
It had been quite a day; not surprising she was feeling tired. She supposed she should try to get hold of Charlotte and Gregory to let them know she was home again, but for the moment felt too weary to be bothered. The news, such as it was, could wait until morning.
Charlotte, in any case, was likely to be out as she so often was; Hector’s career seemed to require an extraordinary level of social activity. Luckily Charlotte enjoyed such things; the prospect would have ﬁlled Marina with horror, had she been the one involved. As for Gregory … Who knew what he might be up to in his scented paradise of palm trees and islands, of beautiful women and a lot less than beautiful business partners? From the way he’d described them, they sounded like a pair of hoods, but she’ll-be-right Gregory had laughed at her concerns.
‘They’re businessmen, Ma, that’s all. We’ll make a killing here.’ An unfortunate choice of phrase, but he knew them and she didn’t. She told herself to stop worrying. He was an adult, a grown man in his body if not always in his head, and she told herself with uncertain conﬁdence that he must—surely?—know what he was doing. There wasn’t a lot she could do about it, in any case; Gregory would follow his own path, as he always had.
She showered her weary body and went to bed. She lay for a min-ute, listening to the waves. Then sleep came.