This novel begins in Australia, on the sheep and cattle station ‘Leonora’ in Victoria, which belongs to Jack and Jane Darman. After many years of hardship and poverty, they have finally paid off their mortgage, and due to the high price of wool find themselves comparatively rich. For some time, Jane has been worried about her aunt Ethel, living back in England, who seems to be living in very straitened circumstances. Ethel and Jane have written to each other since Jane departed for a new life in Australia after WW1 with a man whom her family did not much like; Ethel being the only member of her family to support her in this decision.
In contrast to the hot summer in prosperous Australia, the scene switches to England. Locked in austerity measures, rationing, post-war shortages of almost everything and the cessation of her late husband’s pension, have contrived to make Jenny Morton’s grandmother Ethel (Jane’s aunt) desperately poor, but with no notion of taking charity. Jenny finds her grandmother in a pitiable state, with even the electricity cut off, and it’s while she’s there, nursing her grandmother through her last days, that a cheque for £500 arrives from Jane and Jack. It being no use to her now, Ethel demands that Jenny take the money and use it to visit Australia. Much against her initial promptings, but with her parents’ approval, Jenny does, and finds Australia a grand place – prosperous, free from want or poverty – and falls in love.
Written at the height of post-war shortages, Shute paints a bleak picture of life in the UK for even hard-working professionals, such as Jenny’s father, an overworked GP in Nottingham. Shute contrasts this with the vigour and prosperity of Australia, where no-one goes short of food, wages are high, and station hands can eat mutton every day. It’s evident from Shute’s other books (such as In The Wet) and his own decision to emigrate, that he strongly disapproved of the post-war austerity, and was lucky enough to be able to move somewhere else.
The Far Country is also a love story, and a search for identity – in the story of Carl Zlinter, a Czech displaced person and former doctor, working as a lumberman not far from Leonora.
The book is interesting as a historical document of the post-war era, as well as an enjoyable and touching story of love, loyalty and the virtues of hard work.