Australia House in London painted the picture of a land ‘flowing with milk and honey;’ of a country where you could make your fortune in a few short years.
As new settlers, Ben and Dorrie are granted a “settlers block” at Katandra to be paid off at low interest rates. Life was tough as a new settler. The block allotted to them was wet and swampy and had no internal fences or sheds. Ben had to take timber from the framework of the roof of the house to build a cowshed.
As well as dairy farming, he turns to cropping and has a team of eight draught horses. The horse yard has only three sides. Dorrie is the fourth side. They are young freshly broken in horses. She approaches them cautiously with a pan of oats when they come in from their days work.
A daughter, Maureen is born while they are at Katandra. After the birth Dorrie develops septicemia and hovers between life and death for three weeks. There are no anti-biotics. Three other women at Mrs Fitz’ hospital at Numurkah die from the infection and the hospital is to be closed but Dorrie, the remaining patient, fights on.
The quest to seek their fortune takes them to a bigger property out beyond Tocumwal. They live miles from the nearest neighbours; there is not another house in sight.
Once their crop is in, Ben’s work as a share farmer takes him a long way from home. He lives in a tent where he is cropping and only comes home at weekends.
Life in Australia is both a shock and a challenge for Dorrie. Gone are the comfortable days of her last employment with dressing for dinner and domestic servants to take care of everything. She finds herself living in the isolation of the bush... alone, with a small child. She sleeps with a loaded revolver under her pillow at night.
Sometimes when the wind is in the right quarter you might hear the sound of a distant train. This is her only contact with civilization, apart from the fortnightly drive in the old ute to the nearest town for supplies, or the occasional phone call on the party-line from distant neighbours who become anxious about her after severe storms.
The only people who call in are swaggies looking for food. On arrival they ask to speak to the boss. She tries not to reveal that she is alone and gives them whatever food they ask for. They are always very courteous; say, “Thank you Missus” and move on.
Dorrie, the city girl who never loses her English ways, learns how to milk the house cow and to endure the loneliness. There is nothing to do on hot afternoons while the baby sleeps except play with the goannas. She rolls a stone along the ground and they come down from the trees to investigate and then go back up again watching for the next stone.
The seasons are tough. They had come to seek their fortune, but instead of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, they found the heat, dust and drought of the Riverina.
They decide to return to England. Dorrie and Maureen, who is now five years old, sail from Port Melbourne. Ben will join them after the harvest which he anticipates will give them enough profit to farm in England.
After several months staying with family during the summer, Dorrie is feeling the cold of the approaching winter and missing the Australian sunshine. When she receives a cable from Ben saying, “Crops failed. Come back for another two years” she is happy to return.
When Dorrie was ninety she said “I have had a wonderful life. There are no regrets. We didn’t return to live in England, but we came here in the spirit of adventure and we had plenty of that.”