by Suzanne Singleton
A good book reveals itself in the first paragraph. Mellons Bay did exactly that. I needed to know more about the people, whose stories it told. New Zealand’s early settlement history came alive for me.
Knowing it was about people who built a township anyone can visit today made the story all the more interesting. It reminded me that Auckland started as muddy tracks, horse-drawn carts, and simple buildings. It was built on hard work. Author Suzanne Singleton put people on that landscape and drew us into their lives.
Those early settlers had no choice but to succeed. There were no government hand-outs if they failed. And going back meant returning to famine and civil war.
The novel opens with a statement about life being a journey. Mellons Bay is all about journeys on many levels – physical, spiritual, and emotional.
The story starts with William Mellon. He is a surveyor for the military in Ireland. He marries Harriet and they sail for New Zealand with their five children.
They were author Suzanne Singleton’s great-great-grandparents and I was filled with admiration for them. She tells their story in a compelling, compassionate way, focusing on the main events of their lives and avoiding getting bogged down in detail. We share their heartaches and triumphs.
The personalities of both Harriet and William bring this story alive and I found myself absorbed in a topic that is often crushed by a mediocre recital of facts and figures.
The Mellon family’s life was built on journeys, the longest of which was the four-month sea voyage from England. This voyage was full of hope. They left behind poverty and struggle to build a better life in New Zealand. However, who we are comes with us wherever we go. This was true of William and Harriet. William was the solid army surveyor and Harriet was the entertainer with a beautiful voice. William was literate and Harriet illiterate. Two divides they could not cross.
They settled in Howick. The town that is there today was built by people like them.
While having to recreate the characters from sparse data Suzanne Singleton filled in the gaps using her imagination. This was especially the case for Harriet, of whom there are few records. In filling the gaps with what she imagined happened puts flesh on their bones, adds humanity to the story and separates the story from a mere account of an early settler and his family. They were people of their time shaped by the political and social environment.
There is no question life was tough.
How they make it work is the journey we take under Suzanne Singleton’s skilled story telling makes for a very pleasant journey indeed.
Author: Suzanne Singleton
Publisher: Wily Publications Ltd
Available: Paperback. Available in bookshops. Ebook coming