Tea Cooper has skilfully entwined two Australian History stories, using fiction to elaborate factual data. The two stories are both set around Sydney and the Hunter River; one story is set in 1868 and the other in 1922. We begin The Butterfly Collector in this later time and meet the main character Verity Binks. In the earlier times we meet Sid and Clarrie, Verity’s grandparents.
It is 1922: Verity is working for a The Arrow newspaper and has submitted an article for publication. However, the editor has just told her that she can no longer work for the paper, as jobs have to be prioritized for returned soldiers. The young woman is devastated, and sadly returns home. A parcel is delivered that evening. Surprised, Verity unwraps a beautiful Butterfly Cloak and mask along with an invitation for a ball. Who would have sent this? Why had they chosen and her?
Moving back to the 1800’s we begin this story with Clarrie, a domestic servant for a pompous and demanding minister. He discovers she is pregnant and dismisses her. Sid, her fiancé is not daunted and finds Clarrie a home with a nurse who will look after mother and baby for a fee.
We then meet the Brackenridge family who own a large property near the Hunter River. They have experienced a devastating loss of family members at sea. Theodora, daughter of this family has been influenced by sisters and former neighbours Harriet and Helena Scott, who have produced beautiful and accurate drawings of nature, and in particular butterflies. When she spots what looks to be a rare butterfly only found in America it seems she will have made a discovery of major importance.
Intertwining the two stories we discover the background tale which deals with baby farming, a practice relatively common at that time, and the recognition for female artists of nature, which was slow to evolve.
For historical fiction lovers The Butterfly Collector will fill in many gaps about the early days in Australia and hardships faced by many, particularly women, as they tried to forge a pathway in very male dominated, strictly structured society.
|Publisher||Harper Collins Publishers Australia/HQ Fiction AU|
|Distributor||HarperCollins Publishers Australia|