The twisting and mysterious saga of a young woman in Australia in 1883: Francesca Callaghan returns to the river port of Echuca to help her father, Joe, who runs a paddle steamer. His arrogant competitor, Silas Hepburn, tries to drive him out of business, and it's starting to look like he may succeed. But when Silas sets his eyes upon young Francesca, his devious antics sink to a new low. Francesca, now a pawn in the family business, cannot deny her own romantic feelings. She falls hard for Monty, a charming river captain. But between ill intrigue and impossible odds, can they ever be together? Perhaps the most shattering secret of all is the one that Francesca's father has kept from her for all these years. A tale of self-discovery against the odds, "River of Fortune," will take you on a journey of shattering deception and heart-warming redemption.
With an eye for detail, Elizabeth Haran is the author of numerous other romantic adventures including "Under a Flaming Sky," "Island of Whispering Winds," "Flight of the Jabiru," and "Staircase to the Moon," available as eBooks.
For fans of sagas set against the backdrop of beautiful landscapes, like Sarah Lark's, "Island of a Thousand Springs" or Rebecca Morton's, "The Forgotten Garden."
About the author: Elizabeth Haran was born in Bulawayo, Rhodesia and migrated to Australia as a child. She lives with her family in Adelaide and has written fourteen novels set in Australia. Her heart-warming and carefully crafted books have been published in ten countries and are bestsellers in Germany.
Echuca - 1866
A shrill whistle announced the arrival of the train from Melbourne in the busy port of Echuca, on the Victorian side of the mighty River Murray. As a balloon of steam from the funnel drifted up and dispersed in the canopy of ancient river red-gums, the noise startled sulphur-crested cockatoos on the other side of the river, in New South Wales, and they fled their roost in the branches of Eastern Grey Box trees, screeching in protest.
The train platform was alongside the three tiered red-gum wharf, an ugly construction which spanned a quarter of mile long and stood more than twenty feet high. It was flourishing with activity, as burly wharfies, mostly a scarred breed of rum-swilling, knuckle fighting thugs, loaded wool, stores and machinery, and off loaded timber, tobacco, flour, tea, wines, spirits and wheat, from fifty or more paddle steamers congregated at the wharf. It was near knock-off time, four in the afternoon, so many of the wharfies had a desperateness about them, as they eyed the Star Hotel on the esplanade, the nearest of more than twenty such establishments in town.
Some of the steamers at the wharf-side were headed westwards, to the Murray/Darling junction at Wentworth, but the bales of wool in the freight cars on the back of the train and on drays that had come from inland stations, were destined for a trip to the Murray mouth, where they'd be loaded onto ships bound for the markets in London. Shearers also used the paddle-steamers to ferry them to the many stations that bordered the one thousand, six hundred and nine mile river, from its origins in the Snowy Mountains, to the mouth at Goolwa, where it emptied into the sea.
Joe and Mary Callaghan were passengers on the train. They had come to Echuca to take possession of a paddle-steamer they'd commissioned a year earlier. After making arrangements for their trunk to be unloaded from the train, and grabbing their suitcases, they were barely able to get through the throng of people on the busy station platform, as men began off-loading the freight in the rear carriages. It was Mary's first visit to Echuca, but Joe had been in the town a year earlier to put down a deposit and talk over the plans for their paddle steamer, and a month ago when he'd come back to check last minute details with Ezra Pickering, the shipwright. After living on the goldfields, Mary wasn't shocked by the rough or sleazy characters on the wharf, or the prostitutes plying their 'wares' on the esplanade. She'd seen it all in the last two years. She was looking forward to a different life, which included the tranquility of the river, sleeping in a real bed, and not waking each morning to the sound of digging and the grumbles of men with hangovers.
It had been raining on both the previous occasions that Joe had been in the port, but today, although there was a brisk breeze, the sun was glistening on the peaceful, green surface of the flowing river. With all his heart, he wanted to believe it was a good omen.
It was the most exciting day of Joe and Mary's married lives, and the end of a two year nightmare, working on the Bendigo gold fields. For the first six months they'd lived in a small, patched tent, often ankle deep in mud, while they searched for alluvial gold amid a population often struck down with dysentery and fevers. When it seemed finding their fortune would take longer than expected, they'd built a bark hut with a wood slab floor, but still their daily existence had been torture, especially for Mary, who froze in the winter and wilted in the heat. She felt like her being revolved around three buckets. One contained drinking water; another was for washing themselves and their clothes, while the third was for relieving themselves. Every day, while Joe worked himself to near exhaustion, she kept the fire going and tended to those buckets, emptying and refilling until she thought she would go mad. If not for their objective, of owning a paddle steamer, they wouldn't have lasted a few weeks on the gold fields.
Before moving to Bendigo to search for gold, Joe worked on the Melbourne wharves for three years, but he hated the politics and stand over tactics of the unions, so he took up a position with less pay at the nearby Governor Hindmarsh Hotel. After learning everything he could about the hotel business, he and Mary looked for a hotel to manage. They ended up in the Overland Corner Hotel on Cobdogla Station, near the riverside town of Barmera in South Australia. It wasn't until the hotel was built, and became a staging post for the coach run between Adelaide and Wentworth, that Europeans came to the area. Joe was the second manager. The first, Bill Thomson, had been offered the position of managing a hotel in the city soon after his arrival, and as his wife had refused to live in 'the bush', he quickly took up the new post. Mary felt quite differently. The prospect of living in the country, near the river, excited her as much as it did Joe.
The Overland Corner hotel had been built from limestone mined in a nearby quarry in 1859. The walls were twenty inches thick, an ideal insulation against the dry summer heat, and the floors were made of red-gum. On the day the Callaghans arrived, nearly three hundred aboriginal women turned up to see Joe's 'white fella gin'. A white woman in the area was unknown at that time, but even so, Mary was quite bemused by all the attention. However, she quickly learned that being a minor celebrity had its drawbacks, especially when she couldn't get her chores done because the aboriginal women constantly called her from the back door of the kitchen, wanting to touch her hair and feel her clothes. The site the hotel was built on had been used by aborigines for thousands of years. They'd camped there and built wurlies, surviving on the resources the river provided. When the Europeans came, the aboriginals began trading the good quality ochre they collected from the nearby cliffs. Mary found it useful for reddening the hotel fire places.
Even before Joe took over managing the Overland Corner Hotel, a huge pile of wood was maintained nearby to feed the hungry boilers of paddle-steamers passing by, and there was also a camping place for drovers, who could graze their cattle or sheep on the lush river flats before continuing on to Adelaide. Soon after being built, the hotel became a staging post for mail coaches on the run between Wentworth and South Australia. But it was the growing number of paddle-steamers on the river that convinced Joe that the river trade was going to boom, and he wanted to be part of it.
"The mighty Murray River will be the life-blood of this country," he'd often said to Mary.
It was watching the passing paddle-steamers that gave Joe the idea of getting the money together to buy his own. He knew he'd be unable to achieve this by saving the small wage he received for managing the hotel, so he got it into his head that he and Mary would have to work the goldfields. It was a risky endeavor and a lot to ask of Mary, but after three years in the hotel, she'd had enough of drunken drovers and shearers. But life on the goldfields proved to be a hell of a lot worse, with robberies, vicious fights and even murders taking place. The nightly ritual of soldiers rounding up and beating the drunken, brawling men on the fields often left her quaking, and praying for a miracle.
After a year, Mary couldn't take anymore and threatened to leave Joe on the fields. As luck would have it, that very day he struck pay-dirt, a nice sized nugget which enabled them to commission the building of their paddle-steamer. It took almost a year to complete, although it felt like ten, and it wasn't large or grand, but it would be the first real home they'd had since marrying in 1851, and setting sail on the Fair Lady for a better life in Australia.
After fifteen years of marriage, the Callaghans had long ago given up hope of having a family, since God hadn't blessed their union with a child, but Joe had researched the possibility of making a decent living by ferrying logs from the forests near Barmah to the ship building yards and saw mills in growing towns along the river. He had been born in County Donegal, Ireland, like his father and mother, but his family had moved to England when he was only two, so he'd spent his early years on the River Thames, where his father had been a barge master until his death from pneumonia in 1848. As soon as Joe was old enough, he joined the merchant marines, which satisfied his love of boats. After getting his master's ticket, he came back to England, where he met Mary. After marrying, they headed for Australia, but Joe always had it in mind that he wanted to be around boats. He didn't want to go to sea again, as that meant being separated for long periods of time from Mary, but he was drawn to the river. So in a sense, he felt like he was coming 'home', the only place where his heart and soul would be happy.
Joe and Mary booked into the Bridge Hotel for the night, which was only a stone-throw from the station and owned by Silas Hepburn, the founder of Echuca and a powerful man in the town. Joe had been told Mr. Hepburn owned many of the businesses on High Street, and large chunks of land around the town, so he was looking forward to meeting such a successful, industrious man. Mary thought a room in such an up-market hotel was a luxury they couldn't afford, especially when she learned it would cost them five pounds, which was three times the going rate of rooming houses. But Joe insisted she deserved a treat, a night of...