Apple Island Wife by Fiona Stocker (Unbound)
Who hasn’t dreamed of leaving the rat race and settling in the countryside somewhere? I have, but haven’t managed it (yet!). Unlike me Fiona Stocker did manage it. Living in Queensland, she and her family upped-sticks and moved to Tasmania, a land of promise, wilderness, wallabies, hens…and alpacas.
The Stockers had already made the move to Australia from England and they’d settled, in Queensland, back into a life similar (but in much hotter weather) to their UK existence. This meant office work for Fiona, cabinet making for husband Oliver. What struck me from the beginning of this lovely memoir is that the eventual move onward to Tasmania was an even bigger one for them; not just a move in space – it’s a 1000+ mile flight from the heat of Brisbane to the temperate climes of Tasmania – but in experience.
Apple Island Wife follows the family’s adventures over the first few years of moving to a small holding in the Tamar Valley* in Tasmania. Not only do they have a move from the suburbs to the country to contend with – and Fiona Stocker recounts the challenges of this with warmth and wit – they also have two small children. Small children are exhausting even if you’re dealing with them in familar surroundings moving somewhere entirely new must be even more so!
The Stockers are determined types and weather many an incident. Some of the events recounted in this memoir made me feel a bit squeamish – putting chicks which have no chance of surviving out of their misery, battling a snake, dealing with alpaca afterbirth. Then I wondered, what would I do in that situation? You can’t just wimp out and run away. I’d probably muck in as Fiona did. As she says toward the end of the book, she’s woman who was scared of a daddy-long legs in London, now she walks past huge Huntsman spiders in the hallway and doesn’t bat an eye!
There’s a great community surrounding the property they’ve moved into. The locals come across as neighbourly and – once you get to know them – a gregarious bunch (with some exceptions!). We meet neighbours who help Fiona and Oliver out when they arrive and become firm friends. There are dodgy tradesmen, but also people who excel in their work – I was particularly taken by the initially taciturn alpaca shearers Pete and Warren.
There are wry observations on married life – how easy it is to drop into conventional marital roles, the wife in the kitchen, the husband out building things and chopping down trees. This felt terribly familar and I giggled a lot! (like Fiona’s Oliver, my husband is a great maker of things – a woodworker and devoted DIY-er, and he’s very good at it) I could completely understand Fiona’s need to go out and stack wood, or kill a chicken, to prove that she can do it.
Stocker brings the landscape of the Tamar Valley – a great wine and fruit region – to life for me in this book. It’s a landscape that, in description, can feel a little alien; there are peppermint gums, stringy bark gums, astilbe bushes, wallabies, three sorts of venomous snakes, fairy wrens and kookaburras. Yet it also reminded me wierdly of those lush parts of Britain I’ve dreamed of moving away to – Devon, in particular (maybe that’s down to the transplanted West Country place names!).
The Stockers are part of a working, farming community and all the difficulties and joys that brings; it’s a different way to live than the nine-to-five – and a way of life I’m constantly fascinated by. How would it change you, moving to a place like this? Living there, Fiona describes feeling more in touch with the ecosystem, she begins to consider more carefully where the family’s food comes from and how the family could live a more sustainable life – a slow life, lived off the land, in this beautiful part of Australia.
I have always read travel books, and this type of “relocation and finding your feet” book I particularly enjoy. It reminded me of two writers memoirs in particular; Chris Stewart’s “Driving Over Lemons” and Annie Hawes “Extra Virgin” (and of thier sequels). Apple Island Wife deserves, I think, to be just as widely read.
*Apple Island Wife has been a crash course in the geography and landscape of this part of Australia, I had no idea how ignorant I was and at my grate age too – I basically knew there was an animal called a Tasmanian Devil and…that’s it.
Thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours and to Unbound Digital for the review copy of the book. This is my first time on a blog tour and it’s been really interesting to read reviews at the other stops. Here they all are: