For her second novel, Melbourne based author Fran Cusworth revisited the year she followed her husband to a mining town on the south west coast of Australia. Although a work of fiction, the story of three very different women who follow their husbands to Hopetoun, was inspired by Cusworth’s personal experience of a small community in the grip of a mining boom.
Hopetoun Wives follows the story of the unlikely friendship that develops between Jasmine, Miranda and Brigid – three very different women from three very different worlds. Melbourne girl Jasmine is desperately unhappy in her marriage and is hoping a change of scenery will help repair the damage done to her relationship with Tom. Miranda, mother of two and the boss’s wife, wants to be her own person – even if it means adopting a cause that could ruin the mine and put her husband Mark, out of a job. And Brigid, the mother of three who is struggling to keep her family afloat as her husband Jack, drags them deeper and deeper into debt.
The problems of all three women become magnified when they begin to immerse themselves in the community of miners, farmers, fisherman and migrants that populate Hopetoun – uncovering a world of secrets, infidelity and failing marriages.
Fran Cusworth told Australian Women Online, “The company brought in counsellors because I think they recognised the stress people are under when they move to a new mining town. They have a new job, a new house, their children are starting new schools and everyone is making new friends. These are major life stresses and you’re in an environment where everyone is under similar stress,” she said.
Cusworth moved with her husband and two children to Hopetoun in 2006 and I asked her how much of her own experience is reflected in her latest novel.
“We were inner-city people and I was working on a daily newspaper in Melbourne. But we were really keen to go and have an adventure, save some money and see a bit of the outback and a part of Australia we hadn’t seen before,” she said.
“From inner-city Melbourne to this tiny remote town which is seven hours south of Perth – and when we got there it had one general store and the pub. The town was in a state of extreme change and you had a small core of local people who were having to open their town to hundreds of new people who were coming to work for the mine. So in that way our experience is very much reflected in the book. But the characters are fictional and the storyline is fictional.”
Cusworth added that the story of the massacre of Indigneous people in the area which is told by one of the characters in the book, is actually based on true events. “That history was taken from the local history books and from local oral histories.”
The author also said there was a little bit of her in each of the three main characters. “A lot of my maternal feelings went into Brigid – her feelings for her little boy was based on my youngest son who was a toddler at the time.”
“Jasmine came from Melbourne and had that city to country experience to cope with and Miranda was struggling with the claustrophobia of the small corporate town and that was a feeling I also had,” she said.
Hopetoun Wives shows us that for better or worse, the experience of living in a mining town is one you won’t soon forget and when you leave, you take a little bit of it with you.
From her home in Melbourne Fran Cusworth said, “I’m hoping that mining people respond to it and feel that it’s telling a bit of their story.”