It is the dawn of the twentieth century in Australia and a woman has done an unspeakable thing.
Twenty-two-year-old Jessie has served a two-year sentence for horse rustling. As a condition of her release she is apprenticed to Fitzgerald ‘Fitz’ Henry, who wants a woman to allay his loneliness in a valley populated by embittered ex-soldiers. Fitz wastes no time in blackmailing Jessie and involving her in his business of horse rustling and cattle duffing. When Fitz is wounded in an accident he hires Aboriginal stockman, Jack Brown, to steal horses with Jessie. Soon both Jack Brown and Jessie are struggling against the oppressive and deadening grip of Fitz.
One catastrophic night turns Jessie’s life on its head and she must flee for her life. From her lonely outpost, the mountains beckon as a place to escape. First she must bury the evidence. But how do you bury the evidence when the evidence is part of yourself?
Courtney Collins grew up in the Hunter Valley in NSW and now lives on the Goulburn River in regional Victoria. The Burial is her debut novel and rights have been sold in the US, and it has been optioned for film. Her current work in progress, The Walkman Mix, received a Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Award in 2011.
Based on the real-life story of bushranger and outlaw Jessie Hickman and set in the first decades of the 20th century, this exotic and earthy novel tracks Jessie’s escape first from her abusive husband and then from the men who come after her in pursuit. Circus rider, horse whisperer, cattle rustler, gang member, jailbird, mother and murderer, Jessie goes by several aliases and uses her bush skills in an increasingly desperate flight through the mountainous bushland of New South Wales. Pursued by lawless men bent on vengeance as well as by two more who harbour deep and complex feelings about her, Jessie is also haunted by her own most recent and most grisly crimes.
Part historical novel, part Australian Gothic, The Burial uses the story of the ‘lady bushranger’ to explore some of the dilemmas in the life of a rebellious woman living in a time and place where the choices for women were few, and some of those choices were violent or heartbreaking or both. Collins sustains the suspense and the emotional intensity of this tale from beginning to end. It’s a harrowing read and a wild ride.