A quick rundown… Lena is a new engineer (or is she?) sent reluctantly to work in Western Australia’s Pilbara region on an iron ore wharf. Between the dirt, dust, heat and teasing from the men, it’s a completely different way of life.
Strengths: Great characters and ripping storyline.
Weaknesses: I read the sequel first, so I knew the general storyline.
Why I read it: My mum told me to.
Setting: Western Australia
Rating: 9 out of 10
Sometimes, you just have to listen to your mother. Mum bought this book when it was first released and raved about it to me. Unfortunately, it has taken me until now to read it. (Yes, I am officially a bad daughter). But at least now I know what a talented writer Loretta Hill is, having devoured her other books (One Little White Lie and The Girl in the Hard Hat). This is a fun, funny and fabulous read about the FIFO (fly in, fly out) life in Western Australia’s Pilbara region. This is the place where men are men and everything is a shade of pink due to the red dust.
Lena is a graduate engineer, who is not sure whether she’s worthy of her degree. A city girl who loves her shopping and her lattes, she’s devastated to be told she’s going to a camp in the remote north of the state to work on expansion of a wharf for loading iron ore. With her new home a small donga (that’s a transportable unit), drab dusty uniform compulsory and camp home to hundreds of men, it’s not the life she was looking for. In between trying to prove herself to the men and fending off advances, Lena’s trying to adjust. However, Dan Hullog (or Bulldog) isn’t making life easy for her. Will she stand the test?
I loved this book. It combined a lot of elements that I enjoy – an Australian setting, a clever character (c’mon, since when do female engineers make common heroines?), a lot of banter, friendship, a bit of mystery and a touch of romance. Hill is clearly talented, particularly in making Lena’s colleagues stand out as individuals in the sea of men. Carl the manager and his blue language (which won’t be to everyone’s taste), gossip Radar, silent Dan, slightly creepy Gavin and permanently mad Mike are memorable. Sharon the bus driver is also sweet and a good friend for Lena. As for Lena, she’s quite shallow at the start, but grows throughout the novel to become a worthy heroine to gain the acceptance of her co-workers. The only part I felt that didn’t work all that well was Lena’s ‘secret’ – I don’t think it would be possible for one person to have so much input into university results (especially not with recent scandals). Dan’s secret was much better handled – truly heart wrenching at times.
Hill is also excellent at dialogue, creating witty banter and generally funny comments. She captures the essence of the Pilbara very well too – completely true to life (as I’ve been up that way several times myself). I loved how she took a typically male, macho setting and made a coming of age/romance novel. I can also see how she has grown as a writer – read The Girl in the Hard Hat (the sequel to this book) and the hilarious novella One Little White Lie to see for yourself.