Dorothy Cork: Island of Escape



Year : 1978

ISBN: 0 263 729 176

Source: Q’s Books

Heroine: Ellis Lincoln
Age: 20
Occupation: Shearer’s Cook (nominally)
Description: ‘The light golden-brown hair…had been cut short and completely restyled…her darkly lashed blue eyes looked like jewels…(p.5)’


Hero: Steve Gascoyne
Age: 36 (way too old for the heroine)
Occupation: Sheep Farmer
Description: ‘His thick dark hair had a dramatic silver streak in it, his deeply tanned and strikingly handsome face was young.  He wore a velvet jacket of darkest brown, a pale peach-coloured shirt…(p.10)’.  That is so wrong on so many levels….

LP Hartley famously wrote, ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’ and so we trespassed with a  1970s Mills and Boon replete with its own peculiar sense of morality.   And like a foreigner we looked for the vestigial traces of the familiar.  The hero, dark leanly muscular with his mocking cynicism and expansive land holdings entranced by the innocently fey heroine.  What is different, his wealth is derived from agricultural endeavour (as opposed to multinational operations (why has there never been an Australian hero whose wealth is sourced from where the real money is in this country-mineral resources) and we dispensed with any pretence that the heroine has any type of meaningful employment.

The storyline as per usual requires the suspension of disbelief.  Ellis’s promiscuous cousin Jan has broken off her engagement with Steve and ‘annexed’  Ellis’s boyfriend Paul.  Heartbroken, Ellis writes to Steve offering to be his housekeeper in his sick aunt’s place.  Naturally, it does not occur to virtuous Ellis that her offer to ‘housekeep’ may be interpreted as a euphemism for something else.  

Ellis ‘interviews’ for the job where Steve states his intent explicitly. ‘Well then, I’m offering you a job,’ he said at last. ‘But it’s a double-sided proposition.  I can do with a woman in the kitchen, but than anything I need a woman in my bed, not merely to satisfy my sexual appetite but to give me sons  (p.34).’  God forbid if a female child is born.  This farcical interview is concluded with a kiss of erotic awakening.  Ellis somewhat unnerved by her experience and wary still consents to be his ‘housekeeper’ after he promise she will be just that.  Of course, a sensible girl would agree to work on the sparsely populated Flinders Island (just off the coast of Tasmania) with a complete misogynist. Not!

With the protagonists demurely attired on the front cover, a little more effort had to go into making the word count back then than now. So of course it comes as no surprise as to how the heroine’s skinny dipping escapade ends.  Such restraint. This is one relationship that will not be consummated until after the wedding.

‘I want you all to myself at Warrianda.  Would you mind very much being alone with me?

‘I’d love it,’ she said, and added with a little laugh, ‘After we’re married, Steve!’ (p.187)

It is the basic virtue is rewarded scenario where the pure are exulted and the fallen vanquished.

Reading this thirty odd years after its original publication it was amusing to note the changing social mores.  How casually the heroine was offered a cigarette to smoke by the hero (p. 34) and the hero’s sister-in-law (p.63) and the relatively heavy drinking.  What hasn’t changed is the cultural cringe, inner city elitism and the city versus country divide,  ‘His voice hadn’t sounded slow and drawling and countryfied [sic]. Not even frightfully Australian ‘ (p. 28).  Which makes me wonder about Cork’s intended modulation of Ellis’s voice.

The relationship is too unequal to work as a modern romance and as a passing curio it has its microscopic moments. 

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