The Intergenerational Stages of Womanhood by Fiona McArthur

Indigenous Australian artwork. Image supplied by Fiona McArthur.


The Intergenerational Stages of Womanhood by Fiona McArthur

When I first began writing The Desert Midwife I was thinking of the central Australian travelling midwives who hold clinics on outback stations and remote communities. Yet, I was also thinking how do those midwives who give so much, find the support they need for themselves?

The answer in The Desert Midwife is family, the unsung heroes of the heroes themselves.

I do feel the joy when I’m living vicariously through multigenerational characters in my books. Most often I depict the three phases of womanhood and revel in the roller-coaster. In these phases we have the older grandmother figure, the mother and the maiden.

That repeating life story was reinforced for me all those years at work by a stunning Aboriginal artwork sarong hung on the wall in our maternity unit that depicts the three phases of womanhood. As a midwife there is always a truth worthy of story in that evolution of a young girl to mother to senior years for me. The artwork came from a sarong that the Australian Midwives Association were promoting a few years ago and is an Aboriginal artist’s impression of the intrinsic relationship between women of different ages. I’ve tried to find the artist’s name, but the sarong isn’t for sale anymore and sadly, and unexpectedly, Google has let me down as I searched for more information. We pinned the sarong, which we all thought beautiful, outside our birthing unit as a welcome to Indigenous women who came to birth with us. I always felt it was a token towards how we felt honoured by their presence and trust in the vulnerable time of birth. I will contact an Indigenous midwife who is an artist and ask her if she knows who created the design.

The three figures in the drawing from my point of view now, as a woman nearing sixty, are the Crone – the Mother – and the Maiden. I have them in my own life. The crone – would be me with my five children and nine grandchildren even though I still feel nineteen sometimes. I love to support younger women but am very conscious that they are all strong, capable women in their own right; the mother – my two gorgeous daughters-in-law who have birthed so well and yet still ask me for advice; and the maidens – who are my eldest granddaughters who are 14 and 16 as they become women and I love their promise as they mature.

When I look at these three stages womanhood, I see how it’s been depicted in my own work. I do love older ladies because they make me smile, often laugh out loud, and they have such depth because of their tapestry of life experience. Granny Mim in The Desert Midwife is how I’d like to be when I hit eighty and beyond. A bit waggish, determined, a little bit stubborn, and very independent. All my very mature ladies have a wicked sense of humour, like to be shocking and have a huge kind and generous heart. ‘You are your own woman,’ Mim says to Ava, ‘but you need to take a break from being careful all the time.’

The protagonist Ava adores Mim, and her grandmother is always pushing her to open her heart to Zac – not an easy task – and that she can has a lot to do with the strength that she gains from her family with her brother’s wife, Hana’s sisterhood, Mim’s teasing and Ava’s mother’s cautious support.

For my midwife heroine, Ava, she’s part of a family of women on the land, nurses, managing drought, isolation, and dark times in a close-knit family life. Each generation is so important to the other. Ava’s younger brother, Jock, apart from our hero Zac, is the only other male character and his story of silent pain wrenched my heart. Jock’s goal is to bring the family station up to modern standards and he thinks his battle is against his mother and grandmother’s caution – when his real battle is his own fear of letting everyone down. In the book it’s Jock’s young wife, Hana, who tells the impact of Jock’s story.

It’s all about family.

I’d love you to join me on this celebration journey of the strength in family and friends that is so essential to the network of support in the outback way of life.


The Desert Midwife
Fiona McArthur

What if the love of your life forgot who you were?

When outback midwife Ava May meets Zac on a flight to Alice Springs, they tumble into a whirlwind affair. But an exciting adventure leads to a terrible accident, with shattering consequences. The couple who had so much going for them now find themselves with everything to lose.

Devastated, Ava retreats to her family cattle station to help salvage what she can of the critical situation. But at home on the drought-ridden farm, her brother is being pushed to his limits, and as his depression intensifies, Ava must step in to prevent another family tragedy.

Against the majestic backdrop of Australia’s Red Centre, old dreams are shattered, new babies are born and true love takes flight.

By Australia’s renowned midwife and bestselling author of Mothers’ Day, The Desert Midwife is a romantic drama about strong families, medical miracles and new beginnings.

Penguin Books Australia


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