A compelling and beautifully written tale, Journey to the Stone Country sees Annabelle Beck retreat from Melbourne domesticity and return to the country of her childhood and remote North Queensland.
Betrayed by her husband, Annabelle packs her bags and, without a word, heads to Brisbane. Uncertain where her future lies, the home of now-dead parents provides some respite. Meeting Bo Rennie, a man who claims to hold the key to that future, intrigues her. A member of the Jangga tribe where his and her homelands meet, Bo, although not much older, remembers Annabelle as a child on the neighbouring station property.
Finding themselves attracted to each other, the two set out on a personal journey of return and reconciliation as they look to understand their pasts and events that impacted on them both, repercussions of which continue to this day.
A young, disconnected Annabelle who, sent to boarding school from an early age, remembers little of life in the rugged surrounds. Bo, peripatetic stockman and member of the Rennie family with a (white) Scottish grandfather and traditional Jangga woman as a grandmother. When Iain Rennie died young – killed in a fall from his horse – Grandma Rennie continued as undisputed mistress of the property. An almost unheard of situation, she struggled for years yet, late in life, she is fraudulently dispossessed. Bo is looking for repossessing the land.
It’s not an easy journey as European settlement history and that of the Jangga come together and merge – or at least subsist on the surface. Bo shares his knowledge where he can, but much of it is tacit, leaving Annabelle uncertain, an outsider wanting to understand, but unable. Her own family left, failing in the inhospitable wilds of the stone country, a connection unfounded.
Miller writes beautifully, transporting the reader to experiencing the moment, capturing the fleeting yet resonating for a long time –
They ascended the incline of the ridge through a tract of country where prehistoric grasstrees and cycads stood in isolation among bloodwoods and stunted hickory, petrified sentinels from the age before man, their shaggy topknots and skirts trembling in the mountain breeze as if they would flee at the sight of the oncoming vehicles.
Journey to the Stone Country (as with most of Miller’s novels) sees the landscape as a central character within its narrative: it’s power and everpresence is evocatively captured, it’s history dormant but ever ready to spring forth, to engulf the reader in emotive responsiveness. Bo, his cousin and former stockman partner, Dougald (who features in Miller’s later novel, A Landscape of Farewell), Annabelle are all temporary visitors, their presence felt but ultimately temporary. Journey to the Stone Country is haunting in its redemption.
Alex Miller won the 2003 Miles Franklin Award for Journey to the Stone Country (he won the same award in 1993 for The Ancestor Game).