Hope Farm – Peggy Frew

He’s a greasy little sleazeball, is the young Charlie Manson – as portrayed in ‘Aquarius’. But he is seemingly a charismatic figure to the impressionable young maidens who bound around him. They hang out and do the drug thing at his urban commune – such a happening place. Eventually he coerces his teenage acolytes to do deeds for him that he perceives will contribute to him reaching his destiny – later on these will become the epitome of evil. For now his vicious streak is already starting to show – he’s not a person you cross without expecting retribution. I’ve only watched one episode of the series to date. It seemed somewhat cheesy in places, but I’ll stick with it. For you see it stars David Duchovny as your stereotypical rumpled cop, and after ‘Californication’, I am besotted by David D and the roles he makes his own.

But, I suppose, in the strictest sense, Gippsland’s Hope Farm, back in the eighties, was not a commune. It labelled itself an ashram, and I presume there is a difference, despite both being filled with a loose idea about boundaries within personal relationships. In Frew’s eponymous novel the height of flower power is long past, but a group of disparate, mostly ageing, hippies are hanging on at Hope Farm. The place has seen better days, as have most of its communards, but in the novel they are being introduced to New Age mumbo-jumbo by another charismatic figure – Miller. In contrast to Manson, his intent was purer, but still he seemed to have an effect on the ladies, managing to wheedle money out of them. He’s a big hairy bear of a man. Ishtar was soon in his thrall.

frew hope farm

Mostly, in Peggy Frew’s ‘Hope Farm’, the hardscrabble life at the commune was seen through the eyes of an adult Silver, casting her mind back to her childhood there. Then she wanted a normal existence and she wanted a loving touch, but what she received from her distant mother, Ishtar, was a transitory existence. She moved from one ashram to another as her parent followed her dreams and men of uncertain quality. But at least at Hope Farm it all improved somewhat for Silver. She meets a mysterious boy down by the creek and he becomes a yearned-for friend of sorts. At the farm she experiences her first crush on a guy who, in turn, is besotted by Ishtar. And in the end an abandoned mine-shaft became Silver’s salvation, leading to an anchored life.

Frew displayed, with her first novel, ‘House of Sticks’, an ability to present a story of the human condition that looks at fractured relationships amongst urban Australians who haven’t quite made it into the mainstream. ‘Hope Farm’ is a very strong follow-up. It kept this reader engaged from cover to cover. I’m not completely sure if the device of having the diary entries of semi-literate Ishtah, interspersed throughout most of Silver’s narrative, is completely convincing. That aside, Frew has shown that she is a vibrant new voice on our recent national condition, conveyed in fiction form.

In the end Miller was no Charlie Manson. The hold he had over those around him was no where near as total as Manson’s, so errors along the way soon caused his world start to unravel. Once he lost control of those he expected to pander to his mental well-being – they being never fully convinced in the first place – his end is inglorious. The put-upon figure of Ian, the lad by the creek, comes out of it all very well as maybe the hero of the piece. Help arrives for Silver from an unlikely source. Frew is skilled with juggling all the threads and is considerate to her readers in not allowing any to dangle. She leaves her surely growing list of fans well sated. I like her for that. Roll on novel three.


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