One of the fascinating aspects of historical fiction is its ability to restore our understanding of the past and present. Capturing the delights and trials of colonial New Zealand life is Southern Gold, the debut novel from local author Jude Thomas (pen name of Judy Tindill) and the first in a planned series.
The story begins at the home of a privileged Scottish family on Royal Terrace, Dunedin. It is the start of a new year, garden parties are held with the town’s social elite, and routines continue to be maintained in pristine order. But things turn amiss when fourteen-year-old Eveline Fraser unexpectedly gives birth out of wedlock, causing outrage in the strict Presbyterian household. Distraught with the idea of giving up her child, Eveline runs away with the baby and finds herself taken in by a loving couple in the slums of Dunedin. Southern Gold chronicles the young mother and child’s new life on Mclaggen Street as they find their place in society and navigate the riotous scene of the Otago gold rushes.
Thomas’s experience of growing up in Dunedin rewards the reader with evocative and detailed descriptions of the Otago region. As someone who has yet to travel to the South Island, it was interesting for me to learn about the varied landscapes and some of the country’s most pivotal moments in history during the 1860s. A cast of strong female characters, whose intelligence and determination help them overcome their own adversities, also provide the heart of this story and make for an enjoyable read.
If I had to fault the book, there were points where I felt that things were too convenient or simply unexplained, and that further editing is required to restructure awkward sentences. Having said this, I’ll be looking out for the sequel, Fool’s Gold (and I hope one day to be able to explore the streets of Dunedin for myself!).
Reviewed by Tracey Wong
Southern Gold: Survival and Desire in a Raw New Land
by Jude Thomas
Published by Silvereye Press