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Authors: Judy Nunn

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Elianne

BOOK: Elianne
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Elianne
Judy Nunn
Fiction, Australia
(2013)

Judy Nunn has sold over one million books worldwide. Elianne, her new bestseller, is a sweeping story of wealth, power, privilege and betrayal, set on a grand sugar cane plantation in Queensland.
In the tough world of Queensland sugar mills, it's not only cane that is crushed ...
In 1881 ‘Big Jim’ Durham, an English soldier of fortune and profiteer, ruthlessly creates for Elianne Desmarais, his young French wife, the finest of the great sugar mills of the Southern Queensland cane fields, and names it in her honour.
The massive estate becomes a self-sufficient fortress, a cane-consuming monster and home to hundreds of workers, but ‘Elianne’ and its masters, the Durham Family, have dark and distant secrets; secrets that surface in the wildest and most inflammatory of times, the 1960s.
For Kate Durham and her brothers Neil and Alan, freedom is the catchword of the decade.Young Australians leap to the barricades of the social revolution. Rock ‘n’ roll, the Pill, the Vietnam War, the rise of Feminism, Asian immigration and the Freedom Ride join forces to rattle the chains of traditional values.
The workers leave the great sugar estates as mechanisation lessens the need for labour. And the Durham family, its secrets exposed, begins its fall from grace...

About the Book

In 1881 ‘Big Jim’ Durham, an English soldier of fortune and profiteer, ruthlessly creates for Elianne Desmarais, his young French wife, the finest of the great sugar mills of the Southern Queensland cane fields, and names it in her honour.

The massive estate becomes a self-sufficient fortress, a cane-consuming monster and home to hundreds of workers, but ‘Elianne’ and its masters, the Durham family, have dark and distant secrets — secrets that surface in the wildest and most inflammatory of times, the 1960s . . .

For Kate Durham and her brothers, Neil and Alan, freedom is the catchword of the decade. Young Australians leap to the barricades of the social revolution. Rock ‘n’ roll, the pill, the Vietnam War, the rise of feminism, Asian immigration and the Freedom Ride join forces to rattle the chains of traditional values.

The workers leave the great sugar estates as mechanisation lessens the need for labour — and the Durham family, its secrets exposed, begins its fall from grace . . .

Cover

About the Book

Title

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Epilogue

Author’s Note

Acknowledgements

About the Author

Also by Judy Nunn

Other titles by Judy Nunn

Copyright Notice

Loved the Book?

 

 

This book is dedicated to the people of Bundaberg and to all those Queenslanders who suffered such hardship in the floods of 2011, only to be revisited by the even more catastrophic floods of 2013. Like the rest of Australia, I marvel at the bravery and spirit of mateship displayed in the face of such adversity.

C
HAPTER ONE
1964

S
ome people didn’t like the smell. Some people found it overly rich and cloying, some even used the term ‘sickly’. But they were strangers, visitors from the city.

There had always been visitors to the mill. Overseas dignitaries, politicians, even the odd prime minister had enjoyed the lavish garden parties and general hospitality on offer at Elianne. At times there might be dozens of them, strolling about the grounds of The Big House, or lolling in the wicker chairs on its broad verandahs and upper balconies, while the more active opted for tennis and bowls on the grass courts and greens.

In earlier times, before dirt tracks became accessible roads, and before motor vehicles were the ready form of transport, guests would stay for days on end. The arduous trip by horse and carriage demanded its reward, and Elianne had much to offer – not least of which was the mandatory trip to the nearby mill. The intrepid would climb to the lofty heights of the lookout tower and drink in the panorama of cane fields, stretching like a vast green ocean to the horizon while those without a head for heights would be taken on a tour of the massive metal complex with its varying levels and intricate steel walkways, its giant vats and machines and eighty-foot-high ceiling, and they would marvel at the magnitude of its scope and industry.

During the crushing season, from mid-year until December, the cacophony of heavy machinery was overwhelming as the mill’s giant rollers and presses smashed and mashed and ground the cane through every stage of its transition to raw sugar. Nothing was wasted. The fibre that was left from the crushing was burnt in the furnaces to generate steam power; the mud filtered from the cane through the presses was returned to the field as fertiliser; and after the painstakingly long crystallisation process, the molasses residue was mixed in with the stock feed or sent to the distillery for the making of rum. The whole exercise was highly efficient as men and machines went about their tasks with precise teamwork.

The mill was a busy, buzzy place during the crushing season, like a beehive where each worker knew precisely the purpose he served. The men took pride in the fact they were Elianne workers. They thrived on the noise and the industry and the smell of the mill, the very smell that some of those from the city professed to find ‘sickly’.

Kate and her brothers loved the smell of the sugar mill. They found the toffee-scented air heady and intoxicating. It was the smell they’d grown up with, all three of them. It was the smell of home.

I’ve missed it, Kate thought, breathing in the richness as she wandered through the cathedral-like metal maze, where the giant mechanical monsters now sat eerily silent. Even during the slack season the smell is here, she thought, it’s always here. It’s been here for as long as I can remember.

She hadn’t realised how much she’d missed the mill and the plantation over the past year. She’d been too distracted. Her life had undergone such a radical change. She remembered how she’d anticipated with relish every homecoming from boarding school in Brisbane. Every end-of-term holiday, every long weekend had seen her eagerly embrace the familiarity of her childhood. The cane fields shimmering in the heat; the smell of the mill and the easy friendship of the workers, so many of whom were like family; the horse races with her brothers along dusty dirt roads; swimming in the dam and the way, knees clutched to chests, they ‘bombed’ each other off the end of the jetty; tin canoes and excursions up and down the river; laden mango trees climbed to see who could shake down the most fruit; and on and on it went, the list was endless.

But this homecoming was different. Something had changed. After a year at university, this homecoming had taken her by surprise. It was more intense, more meaningful. The past seemed more precious than ever, as if she were somehow threatened with its loss. Perhaps it’s because
I’m
different, she thought. Perhaps it is
I
who has changed, and things will never be the same again. The notion was disturbing, even a little sad, but also strangely exciting.

Although the mill appeared deserted, Kate was aware she was not alone. The gentle clink of tinkering could be heard as here and there mechanics cleaned and serviced the machinery. But the delicacy of the sounds only served to highlight the stillness. At least it seemed so to Kate. She loved the mill most of all during the slack season when it lay dormant, quietly exhaling its treacly breath, biding its time before the next crushing frenzy.

‘Buongiorno
,
Kate. Welcome home.’

The voice that jolted her from her reverie came from behind the massive filter press nearby; it belonged to Luigi Fiorelli. He rose to reveal himself, burly, grease stained and good natured as always.

‘Is good to see you,’ he said with a huge grin and a wave of the grimy rag he held in his hand.

‘Good to see you too, Luigi.’ She smiled and returned the salute.

‘How you like it down South, eh? You have good time down there?’ His tone was highly sceptical. During his eighteen years in the southern cane fields of Queensland, Luigi had travelled no farther than Bundaberg, on the other side of the river just fifteen miles from Elianne. He hadn’t even made the trip to Brisbane, which, although two hundred and forty road miles to the south, was easily accessible by both rail and road. He didn’t like big cities, he said, which was perhaps an odd remark from one who’d been brought up in the backstreets of Naples. But then his brothers, also Neapolitan by birth, were of exactly the same mind. The Fiorellis stuck to their farms and to Elianne, never travelling any further afield than Bundaberg. Why bother, they would say, and many felt the same way. Bundaberg, affectionately known to all as Bundy, had been successfully servicing the area for nigh on a hundred years.

‘Yes, I had a very good time down south, Luigi,’ Kate replied. ‘I like university very much.’


Si, si,
sure, sure, university is fine, very good, but
Sydney . . .’
Luigi was now openly scathing
‘. . . you don’ like
Sydney
!
You can’ tell me you like
Sydney,
Kate.’

The thought was clearly anathema to Luigi, but Kate made no reply, maintaining instead an enigmatic silence.

Luigi Fiorelli had emigrated from Italy with his three older brothers in 1946, following the war. His brothers had become market gardeners, starting out with tomatoes and zucchinis, and also tobacco, or ‘tabac’ as they called it. Over time, and with application to the all-powerful Colonial Sugar Refinery, they had converted their modest acreage to cane, but twenty-two-year-old Luigi had followed an altogether different path. A skilled mechanic, he had applied for a position at Elianne. He was forty now, and one of the estate’s senior overseers, responsible for the repairs and maintenance of all mill machinery. He preferred to do more than supervise, however, and was invariably to be found in his overalls working alongside those under his command. ‘How a mechanic is to be a mechanic without he get his hands dirty, eh?’ he would say. Luigi’s command of English had improved immeasurably over the years, but his accent and disregard for syntax hadn’t changed very much.

The Fiorelli brothers and their families remained inextricably linked to Elianne. Luigi, his wife and two teenage children lived on the estate in one of the many comfortable cottages made available by the company to the mill’s most valued employees. The three older brothers, now independent growers and each also with a family, relied upon Elianne for the crushing of their cane, delivering it to the collection points each season, from where it would be taken by cane train to the mill.

The mill was essential to the livelihood of the entire district. The estate itself was home to many, and for some, like Luigi, it was their whole world. Kate’s continued silence, which appeared a comment in itself, now plainly shocked him.

‘You don’ say to me I am wrong, Kate. A girl like you who is born right here at Elianne? Your ancestors who build this place,’ he stretched out his arms as if to embrace the mill and all it stood for, ‘how you can like Sydney? Is not possible.’

Kate laughed. ‘I’m ashamed to admit, Luigi, that yes, I like Sydney very much.’ Her eyes, beguilingly green and mischievous at the best of times, held a cheeky challenge as she added boldly, ‘In fact I
love
Sydney.’ She clutched a dramatic hand to her heart. ‘I love everything
about
Sydney.’ She enjoyed teasing Luigi, whom she’d known as a colourfully avuncular figure all her life, but there was nevertheless a touch of defiance in her statement. Such a comment, even in jest, would annoy her father immeasurably, and indeed others of his ilk. Like many powerful businessmen, particularly those in the sugar trade, Stanley Durham did not see eye to eye with the politics of the South. Queenslanders were a breed apart, he believed, and needed a different set of rules to live by; they always had.

BOOK: Elianne
11.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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