Teddy Truelove is one of my childhood friends, as real to me as the girls who lived down the street, only perhaps more so, because I could read about Teddy over and over again. She lived with her family in the remote Candlebark forests of the Blue Moutains of New South Wales in a hut that her father, Edwin, hewed from bark slabs for his wife and children, cutting the logs from the forest that surrounded them and provided their livelihood. Teddy's father has settled in Longtime with his brothers, Merlin, Sean and Vance, because doctors have told him that only the fresh mountain air will keep his beloved daughter, Teddy's elder sister, alive. It is a life of hardships, of failed orange orchards, bushfire, and the Depression, but for Teddy and her siblings, it is also a life filled with freedom, adventure, and fun. Family are always present - the uncles woo their girlfriends, the aunts helping to manage the household.
Children and older folk, too, when they planted the freshly turned earth, somehow planted themselves. So that always and forever, wherever they went, whatever season it might be, whatever the time of day, those roots would draw them back... This was Longtime as I remember it. This was the country of my childhood.
Lettie, Teddy's mother, ‘felt as though she and the children were the only inhabitants of a lost world’. Born to a life of leisure in the genteel suburbs of Sydney, she dedicates herself to supporting her husband and raising and educating her children as best she can, disappearing at night into endless re-readings of Pride and Prejudice.
Longtime Passing tells the history of the early Australian explorers and the problems they encounter 'going west', through the seemingly impenetrable barrier of the Great Dividing Range. It talks of the convict labourers, the struggles of the first settlers - and, of course, the Aborigines. Brinsmead is sometimes criticised for telling what is probably a fictional story of the ritual sacrifice of a young aboriginal woman who leads white man across the mountains, but Longtime Passing also deals sensitively with the aborigines and their cultural heritage and spiritual beliefs.
Teddy seems real, because she almost is. Longtime Passing is the only slightly fictionalised story of Brinsmead's own childhood. It is the first of three books in the Longtime trilogy, along with Longtime Dreaming, the memoir of Brinsmead's father, and the delightful Christmas at Longtime. They're out of print, but easily available through my friend Abe. We read them in AO7. You should too.