'This is the story of the lives of 11 significant women who sailed to the colonies in Australia's founding years.
'The first to arrive was Esther Abrahams, an attractive 16-year-old Jewish girl transported for shoplifting two cards of lace. Esther and other female convicts landed on 'the fatal shore' in a storm and she and many other female convicts were set upon by sex-starved men who had been awaiting their arrival for two weeks. Esther survived and under her own name became a wealthy cattle farmer.
'Pioneer sheep farmers Elizabeth Macarthur and Eliza Forlonge were bitter rivals to own the best breed of merino sheep. Like a character in a Jane Austen novel, witty, artistic Fanny Macleay lacked a dowry at a time when marriage was a young woman's main aim. Fanny's ambitious mother urged her six daughters to marry for money, but strong-minded Fanny had ideas of her own.
'In South Australia Mary Thomas, faced deprivation and despair as she struggled to give her children a better life. Irish Catholic Annie Mooney Caldwell came to South Australia as an indentured servant before becoming a 'dungaree settler' on a small block of land with a poor water supply. As a widow with a young family Annie became Australia's 'Mother Courage' undertaking a dangerous journey in a covered wagon from South Australia's Adelaide Hills many hundreds of miles to New South Wales.
'Van Diemen's Land punished and persecuted convicts and decimated the Aboriginal population. Louisa Meredith, wife of Tasmanian settler Charles Meredith faced a life of deprivation with courage. So did the aristocratic Georgiana McCrea who had to live in a wooden shack surrounded by mud and mire on Lonsdale Street in the centre of Melbourne before the roads were paved.
'Landing at Western Australia's Swan River Settlement, Mary Anne Friend had to camp on the edge of the Swan River surrounded by distraught settlers facing starvation as their crops withered and died. Mary Anne and her husband sailed away to Tasmania but the stress of a court case caused Mary Anne's premature death.
'Mary Anna Spencer was a distant cousin of the Spencers of Althorp House, the dynasty that would eventually produce Lady Diana Spencer, (Princess of Wales). In 1848 Mary Anna rumbled through the Queensland outback in a covered wagon where her father took up a pastoral property. Her English cousins had lives of luxury while Mary Anna lived in a bark hut and helped muster cattle.
'Letters and portraits help bring these women to life and describe the dangers and deprivations of pioneering in the six colonies that would unite at Federation to form one nation - Australia.
'These tales of women triumphing over adversity document the early decades of a nation and are told with great panache by Susanna de Vries who has inherited the Irish gift for storytelling. (From the publisher's website.)