Love, Life and Death on Tarawong

tarawong cover

A devastating flood prompts Rebecca Bradley’s return to her childhood home, Tarawong, a merino sheep property in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, that has been in the Bradley family for four generations. 
Rebecca narrates to her children life growing up on an isolated property in the 1970s. Rebecca has a loving family with a close bond to her father who she has a dream to assist manage Tarawong in the future.
The arrival of nineteen year old shearer, Luke Hunter, has heartbreaking consequences and shatter Rebecca’s dreams as her future on Tarawong becomes uncertain. 

In Store Price: $AU22.95 
Online Price:   $AU21.95


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ISBN: 978-1-922229-24-3  
Format: Paperback
Number of pages:286
Genre: Non Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

Author: Annie Handsaker
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published:

Language: English


Author biography

 Twenty years ago a clairvoyant stated that the author, Annie Handsaker, possessed artistic ability. Her response was that she couldn’t draw a stick figure to save her life. The clairvoyant clarified her flair was in the form of writing. She certainly had the imagination for storytelling. The idea of writing a novel was pushed to the back of her mind until she had more time.

When her boys grew into men time became plentiful along with boredom. Reading an advert in the local paper to attend Nundle Writing Retreat in July 2010 spiked her interest. Since then she has written many short stories just for the fun of it. A critique of a short story she’d written proposed the storyline be elaborated into a book. Subsequently ‘Tarawong’ was conceived.

Annie’s formative years at high school provided the first indication of her love for writing when the only subjects she passed involved essay writing in the exam. Growing up in a country town in New South Wales provided background for her characters. She was inspired by strong characters who never give up regardless of tragedies encountered. She is uninspired by ‘goody two shoes’ characters. Her first published novel Love, Life and Death on Tarawong has been three years in the making. The sequel Leaving Tarawong is in production. However, she is enjoying writing about the characters so much she doesn’t want to finish the story. Her ambition is to nurture her passion to become a widely read novelist.

Chapter One

 Read a sample of the book.

Looking out over my beloved Tarawong, I could not believe the devastation. Farmers expect to be at the mercy of Mother Nature. We cope with years of drought watching crops waste away to stubble, under the hot sun. Sheep and cattle, with bony ribs showing through wasted hide, evidence the shotgun is the only way to put the beasts out of their agony. Rain eventually falls on the parched land, however, it’s no exaggeration years can pass without one drop of rain. Weather can change from one extreme to the other within a matter of days.

The country survived nine long years of drought, with many farmers walking off their property with nothing to show for generations of hard, back breaking labour. When the heavens opened up, drenching hardened cracked land with rain, hope abounded throughout the community. Good steady rain soaking into the earth. Or so we thought, except the rain didn’t stop, not here in the New South Wales Southern Highlands or further upstream in another state.

Raging water travelled thousands of miles, crossing state borders, wreaking havoc along the journey. Entire towns wiped out in the torrents. Lives lost, human and animal, unable to fight the engulfing monster. The Wollondilly and Paddy Rivers merged in the wake of surging water upstream. Both rivers broke their banks, simultaneously, with a vengeance never witnessed before.

Now Tarawong was defeated after five generations of Bradleys. Farm sheds ripped from foundations carried downstream where they settled in pieces. The farmhouse unrecognisable, packed in mud, hay bales and tree trunks brought down by gushing floodwater. The shearing shed disappeared; possibly lying in a neighbour’s paddock further downstream. Our grand homestead looked battered and dilapidated from constant bombardment of water, debris and sticky black mud. My family’s possessions, some antiques handed down from generation to generation, buried under thick sludge. Salvaging would commence as soon as the mud was dry enough to allow access.

Perimeter fencing and gates no longer existed lying smothered and tangled on the mucky ground. Animal carcasses littered the paddocks where only a few days ago they grazed on green fodder. The stench unbearable as maggots burst to life, making a mockery of death.

I was standing on the crest of Wattle Ridge with a bird’s eye view over Tarawong. Standing beside me were three of my four children Bradley, Juliette and Bella. This was their first visit to Tarawong to meet Grandpa Bradley. Bella looked up at me with big blue eyes framed by long blonde lashes.

“Mummy, you said Nannie’s farm was pretty, why does it look so yucky?”

“The rain started falling last week, darling, and didn’t stop until the rivers invaded the earth to wash everything in its path away,” I replied shedding unwanted tears.

Bella hugged my leg. “Don’t cry Mummy, when Daddy and Jeremy come we can clean away the mess. If only it were that simple, I thought. Her daddy and older brother wouldn’t reach Tarawong for another week.

In the distance two stooped figures held each other gazing across the wasteland that was once their home and livelihood.

“Come on kids, jump in the car we’ll head down to the homestead to surprise your grandparents.”

Thankful for the firm grip of four wheel drive tyres, I slowly steered our Nissan down from Wattle Ridge, attempting to follow a non-existent road leading to Tarawong Homestead. It was a spur of the moment decision to travel from Victoria to Mittagong in New South Wales to witness Tarawong at her most vulnerable. Visions transmitted through the television news were heartbreaking, I had to come. Mum and Dad would be staggered to see us with no prior warning of our visit. This would be a monumental experience for my children to meet their Grandpa for the first time. Nannie Bradley often visited my home to observe her grandchildren grow. My sisters Stephanie and Jennifer and brother Adam accompanied her but always without Grandpa.

I literally drove over the driveway gate; a few more poundings from the tyres making no further impression. I continued to skid along the slippery mud trench until reaching the homestead. With trepidation, I opened my door ordering the children to step carefully. Reluctantly, we endured the muddy earth making our way around to the back of the homestead. Hearing a noise behind her, Mum turned in our direction, realisation slowly registering on her face. Immediately she pulled away from her husband and raced to embrace her youngest daughter and three beautiful grandchildren.

“My darlings,” she squealed with delight, “where on earth did you come from? Rebecca, it’s lovely to see you and the children. Why didn’t you tell us you were coming and what on earth are you doing here?”

My father glared at me without expression on his stern face. It was obvious his fury had not abated over the years since I saw him last. Without acknowledging my family he turned and walked briskly around to the other side of the house and out of view. I was dumbfounded by his reaction. Foolishly, I thought seeing his grandchildren would have the power to melt his heart.

Mum and I looked at each other silently expressing our sorrow.

“I’m here to help Mum, regardless of what Dad says. Jeremy and his dad will be here by the end of the week, bringing building supplies on the truck. We have booked into an apartment in Mittagong. Have you and Dad made any living arrangements?”

“We’re okay here at the moment. Miraculously, Adam’s farmhouse came through virtually unscathed. Drinking water is the biggest concern as the floods destroyed the pump station.  Keith is confident with insurance money we will rebuild. Adam, Skye and the family are on vacation at the South Coast. Dad rang them insisting they continue their holiday. Skye and the children will stay with Skye’s parents until the clean-up is completed. I don’t expect Adam back until the end of next week.”

I was relieved to hear plans were already in motion to rebuild Tarawong to her former beauty.

“Mum, it breaks my heart to see Dad turn his back on Bradley, Juliette and Bella. I don’t care that he hasn’t forgiven me, nevertheless he can at least acknowledge his grandchildren.”

“Leave that to me, Rebecca. I promise, within the hour, your father will be putty in their hands.”

With assertion Mum proceeded to march the children around to meet their grandfather. Conceding the fact Dad was not going to welcome me back into the family fold, I returned to the car. Turning on the radio for distraction, I drank a bottle of Solo and munched on a packet of Twisties, my favourite snack. A tap on the car window startled me, almost causing me to spill what remained of my drink. Mum was beaming beckoning me out of the car to follow her to the back verandah. With unbelieving eyes I saw Dad, surrounded by my children, telling them a story. I mouthed to Mum, thank you, before disappearing from view. I didn’t want to ruin the moment between generations so I quietly retreated to the safety of the car.

Travelling back to Mittagong conversation rambled between my children each trying to outdo the other with ideas to help Grandpa. He had certainly made an impression on their young hearts; something told me it was a mutual experience for him. Desperately, I prayed to God, to allow my father and myself to regenerate the bond we once had so many years ago. I had missed Tarawong.

Sunshine continued to beat down on the sludge left behind by the torrential flood waters. Gradually, mud turned to solid ground allowing access to damaged property. When my husband and son arrived, five days later, his truck did not experience any difficulty manoeuvring the rutted road. My father remained silent to me.  However, he hung on every word that came out of the mouths of the children. Helping unload the truck was humbling for my dad although stubbornness restricted him from saying anything other than mumbling, thank you.


As the days passed Mum and me, with the help of my three rug rats, commenced the mammoth task of removing debris. Although, I wondered if Bradley was more of a hindrance than help, watching him race over damp ground doing a hundred miles an hour. Because of mosquitoes and possible disease in the mud, I insisted the children wore leather gloves, long pants and long sleeved shirts, with a face mask for the couple of hours they were permitted to assist Nannie. Meanwhile, the men worked on clearing destroyed iron and timber, salvaging what they could. Rebuilding was expected to take many months; however, my family would stay for one month as it was necessary for us to return to our own property for the beginning of shearing season.

Every occasion we retraced our steps to view Tarawong, from Wattle Ridge, the scars on the land began to subside. Gazing out from our vantage point, after three weeks, Bradley asked, “Mum, was I named after Grandpa’s family?”

“Yes, you were. Your father and I knew with a strong name you could do anything in your life. The Bradleys are a family of courage, tenacity and success,” I replied

Juliette and Bella requested, “Tell us about what it was like living on Tarawong when you were young, Mummy.”

The memories flashed back to my mind. Smiling I thought where do I start?

“I have very happy memories of living on Tarawong. You know I was born here?”

“Oh please tell us, Mummy,” chided my daughters. Acknowledging, to myself, portions of my story would not to be spoken aloud, forever to remain as personal memories in my mind, I began to search my memory banks for a tale to tell my children.


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