What I’ve come to appreciate about The Pioneers is that it’s Mary Cameron’s story. After all that huffing and puffing about ALL YOUR LAND ARE BELONG TO ME, Donald Cameron is absent from the main action. Prichard was clearly far more interested in conveying the experience of the women, children, and convict classes.
Implicit in this is, of course, a criticism of what came to be known as the squattocracy. Just reading that last link, I suppose, when Donald was in in the Port, he was off with those who established the Melbourne Club. He’s certainly unconscionably proud of being known as the Laird of Ayrmuir and thinks Mary’s spinning is beneath the wife of a man of his station.
Meanwhile, Mary is going about her business, establishing a school for the local children and fighting devastating bush fires.
When I was reading the descriptions of the bush fires, my whole body was suffused in chilling goosebumps to the extent that I physically shook and had to do another take of the recording. This is a testament to Prichard’s evocative writing, but also, it was impossible to read these passages without recalling the images of Black Saturday in 2009.
In these chapters too, Mary and Donald’s son, Davey, grows up, attends school, and then leaves it, before time, to work with his father on the property. Prichard offers additional insights into colonial-era gender norms and their inculcation in the figure of Deidre, the absconded convict school-master, Daniel Farrel’s daughter. While Davey is schooled by Farrel, after school motherless Deidre is tutored in the housewife’s arts by Mary.