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Cindie by Jean Devanny
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Cindie (1949)

by Jean Devanny

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I quite enjoyed this look at a sugar cane plantation in Queensland during the White Australia movement (1896-1907 were the years covered in the book). At age nineteen Cindie goes to the new farm as the servant of the farmer's wife but immediately falls in love with the land and works like a man to make the farm a success, later introducing timbering and coffee to the plantation. She and her boss recognize the South Sea islanders, the Kanakas, that he hires (although that's not an accurate description of what he does) and the Aborigines as humans and treat them with dignity even as they exploit their labor. Devanny, herself a Communist, has written a sort of problem novel, and that's my main problem with it.
It's clear that describing and explaining the political and human ramifications of Australian unification are more important to her than the crafting of a novel as a work of art. Most of the time that didn't matter because she did tell a compelling story to support her concerns. I just couldn't quite believe in Cindie herself. Her motivation for staying with the Biddows was not adequately explained to me when she was offered marriage by a man whom she liked and respected, who would have given her her own farm to develop. Her romance at the end of the book struck me as equally contrived. Those quibbles aside, I was fascinated with the time and place and with some of the other characters. ( )
3 vote LizzieD | May 2, 2012 |
Cindie tells the story of a young woman who goes to Queensland, Australia, to work for Randolph Biddow, who owns a sugar plantation, his wife, Blanche, and their two young children. Cindie thrives in her new environment, and she rises to become manager on the estate. Sharply in contrast to her is Blanche, who complains ceaselessly about her new life and feels bitter and jealous towards her former maid.

It’s a beautiful story, made even more vivid by the lush way in which Jean Devanny describes North Queensland and the people who inhabit it. She highlights beautifully the differences between whites, Aborigines, and Kanakas, set against a real historical event: the creation of the Commonwealth Bill in the 1890s, under which Australia’s Constitution was made legal by Queen Victoria. There’s a distinct difference between the whites and the natives, and it’s interesting to see how such a major turning point in Australia’s history influenced them. I loved Jean Devanny’s description of the place in which the novel is set; I do love it when a place becomes a character on its own.

But the star of the show is, of course, Cindie, who proves herself to be a likeable character, despite the fact that she can seem distant sometimes. She’s hard-working and industrious, and doesn’t take the way she’s treated by Blanche lying down. She’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind; nor is she afraid to assert her independence by not marrying. In direct contrast to Cindie, of course, is her employer Blanche, who dislikes Cindie once she begins to take on more responsibility around the plantation. She’s suspicious and distrustful of how much trust Randolph places in Cindie, but sometimes I think Blanche goes overboard in her behavior. Despite my problems with Blanche’s character, I really enjoyed this novel. ( )
  Kasthu | Oct 22, 2011 |
Acquired Sep 2008 - sent to me by a fellow LibraryThinger

A Virago I'd not previously come across, this was the excellent, absorbing story of Blanche Biddow, wife of an Australian pioneer trying to make it good in the very north of the country, and her servant Cindie, who gains power, experience, knowledge and self-worth as she engages with the countryside, work and, not least, with the south sea islander and native australian workers. There's a satisfying amount of detail on how exactly they set up the farms and homesteads, an exciting story and lots of information on how Australia was, politically and socially, at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries. Marvellous stuff and into the Permanent Collection. ( )
2 vote LyzzyBee | Dec 21, 2008 |
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About eleven o'clock on a fine morning in August, 1896, a group of men reclined upon a patch of cleared land on the southern bank of the Masterman River, North Queensland.
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"'A delicious scent began to rise about Cindie. . . The moments of her discovery of that wild-lily stock were to remain with Cindie. . . what happened to her then was like a conception within her, the germinating of new life.'

In August 1896 Randolph Biddow's family join him on the sugar-cane plantations of North Queensland. For his wife, Blanche, it is an exile in the wilderness; but for their maid Cindie, it is an exciting world of tropical forests, rewarding works and new relationships - with white people, Pacific Islanders and Aborigines alike. Teaching herself the sugar trade Cindie rises from servant to independent woman. By the early 1900s she is the indispensable manager of Biddow's expanded property but her complete happiness is marred by the jealousy and hatred of Blanche. First published in 1949, this is a compelling chronicle of plantation life and its challenges, of the racial tensions amongst workers and the politicking of landowners faced with the economic impact of the Commonwealth Bill. But above all, this is the story of one determined and spirited woman."
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