After one fight too many with her mother, sixteen-year-old Australian Julie McGinty finds herself put on a plane, flying to meet a father she doesn’t remember in a country she doesn’t know.
In a blinding rainstorm her tiny plane lands in the frontier town of Mt Hagen, high in the mountains of Papua New Guinea. The storm, the fury of the air charter boss at the deadly risk taken by the pilot, the rough language and teasing of Julie and her Dad by the other pilots – all foreshadow the turmoil Julie is about to meet head-on.
It is 1974, and the country is on the verge of independence from its Australian colonial masters. The ‘expats’ – or foreign workers and families – live pampered lives that socially exclude the local people. In their tiny social circle in Mt Hagen the expats ask each other, ‘What will Independence mean for us, when the ‘nationals’ take over? Do we have a future in this country many of us love as deeply as if it were our own?’
Julie is shocked and confused by the unwritten rules that separate the two communities.
For Julie, this conflict soon becomes personal, as Australian teen Ryan, and Simon, whose mother is local, compete for her attention. She hears the locals’ simmering anger in Simon’s, ‘It won’t happen after Independence,’ when he is challenged for entering an ‘expats only’ area.
Constable brings to life the beauty of the Highlands with the passion of someone who once called it home, so the reader almost sees the mountain views, hears the tropical birds, smells the rich vegetation, is deafened by the drumming rain.
She enables the reader to enter into the social tension, too, as we empathize with the expats who so desperately hope that Independence will not force them out. At the same time, we bristle at the locals’ lack of power and status, symbolized by expats calling adult local men bois.
Then a plane goes missing, secrets spill out, and Julie discovers she has ties with Papua New Guinea she ever imagined. To right a wrong almost as old as Julie herself, she and Simon must fight their way through greater dangers than the foreign community’s anger at their friendship.