Book Review: ‘Waireka’ by Sheila Donald, set in nineteenth century New Zealand – a story which makes you see your own life in a new perspective

Before I start my series on New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019, I am delighted to review a book set in the very place I visited – New Zealand’s North Island.

Map of New Zealand

But the times are very different in ‘Waireka’ by Sheila Donald. The genre is historical fiction. We are in the nineteenth century, and the main protagonist Eliza finds herself among the pioneers, and having a very different experience of that beautiful, green and richly-forested country.

New Zealand – a richly forested, green and beautiful country

The landscape of New Zealand’s South Island

For Eliza, there is no chance of flying from the UK to New Zealand in twenty six hours, as we can do today. No, Eliza must travel by sea, in cramped conditions, on a voyage which is dangerous and will last at least three months. And the lifestyle which awaits her is that of a pioneer, in a male-dominated society to which women often fall victim.

A very different prospect for nineteenth century pioneers

Having recently returned from my 16 day holiday in New Zealand I was keen to read this story set in New Zealand’s north island in the 19th century. The story tells how Eliza chooses to travel from Scotland to New Zealand in search of a better life, impelled by mostly economic motives but also by the desire for an opportunity to travel away from her own enclosed world with its limited prospects for women.

Eliza sets sail for New Zealand, accompanying a clergyman and his family in the position of governess to the children. After Eliza has arrived in Wellington, the author unfolds a story in which we learn about all the challenges her protagonist must face in making a life for herself in this new country.

An insight into the challenges faced by women in a less enlightened society

In the course of her narrative author Sheila Donald succeeds in showing us how difficult life was for women of the time, and many women readers will surely see their own lives in a new perspective upon reading this book. As we read, we also cannot help feeling angry on occasions, and the issue of female empowerment is one that rises to the forefront of the reader’s mind.

‘The Conversation’ an image of nineteenth century New Zealand
Waireka - a historical novel set in New Zealand, by Sheila Donald
Waireka, a historical novel set in nineteenth century New Zealand, by Sheila Donald

I was particularly struck by how dangerous and risky the sea-voyage to New Zealand could be, taking at least three months; and how vulnerable a young woman was, when faced with a situation of gross injustice, unable to seek any redress for violations of her own human rights by an unenlightened male dominated society.

An emotionally stirring story with a strong twist at the end

Later part of the story are genuinely moving, as Eliza faces tragedy, and an impossible situation where her own integrity and courage are tested. Finally, I loved the twist at the end which was very emotionally stirring.

I later learned that the author based the story partly on her own family history, and I found that particularly fascinating.

SC Skillman, psychological, paranormal, mystery fiction & non-fiction. My next book ‘Paranormal Warwickshire’ will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available for pre-order now.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 1: Brisbane, Queensland: Roma Street Parklands

This is the first in a series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

First I visited Australia, where my travels took me to Brisbane, Queensland, and along the coast through New South Wales, during a time when that region was suffering severe drought with dried up grassland and tragic bushfires. Later I spent twelve days in the north island of New Zealand where a cooler, more temperate climate ensures a landscape clothed in rich green.

Jacaranda tree in Roma Street Parklands, Brisbane

My first few posts in this series will take us through Queensland and New South Wales. I last visited Brisbane in 2009 and much has changed in the city and suburbs since then: considerable development means that I was unable to recognise many of the areas from my previous times spent here.

One place I enjoyed walking around when I lived in Australia from 1986 to 1990 was the area of parkland near Wickham Terrace not far from Roma Street Station. I was delighted to find that the changes here are uplifting: for the parkland has been greatly extended and enhanced.

This is a new development that gives nothing but pleasure, for the former railyard has been transformed into a glorious series of gardens, and the genius of the landscapers and garden designers is seen here in abundance. Despite the drought, colourful subtropical flowers and trees give joy to all who wander through the parklands.

view of Brisbane City from Roma Street Parklands
Festival in Roma Street Parklands, Brisbane
Fountain in Roma Street Parklands, Brisbane
Flowers and trees in Roma Street Parklands, Brisbane

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020