It’s all about the dress.
My heroines seem to spend most of their time galloping around on horses and getting themselves into all kind of scrapes. Their day-to-day clothes are very much based on those worn by some of the more notorious female characters of Australian history.
Mary Ann Bugg was the sometime wife of one of Australia’s more famous bushrangers, Captain Moonlight. Newspaper reports of the time describe her as looking like a young boy, wearing moleskin trousers, a thick shirt, a monkey jacket, knee length boots and a cabbage tree hat. The type of clothes a stockman of the day wore.
Both my heroines in Lily’s Leap and Matilda’s Freedom are fiercely independent women, born and bred in the Australian bush. Although Lily grew up with many of the privileges of wealth, Matilda is the daughter of convict parents.
Nevertheless, as we all know, at some point every girl needs a party dress.
After a week on the road with a motley crew of bushrangers Lily arrives at her aunt’s house in Sydney and she has to conform. I chose this example from the Powerhouse Museum Collection as “her” dress.
A few years later Matilda borrows it when she arrives in Sydney with only the clothes on her back after her family’s farm has been destroyed by fire.
It’s fun to slip a little bit of reality into a story.
This dress has an interesting history. It belonged to a Sarah Thomas. She brought it with her from England when she arrived in Australia with her husband as a free settler in the late 1830s.
Sarah Thomas was an interesting individual and obviously (like me) had a preference for checks! She made herself this skirt en route to Australia and wore it until her death in 1878 which, since she had ten children, is pretty amazing! You can find out more about Sarah, her story and her skirt here.
Excerpt from Lily’s Leap
Lily pushed back the blankets and peered around her in horror. The sun streaming in through the fine lawn curtains told her it was long past dawn and the time the horses should have been loaded. She reached her hand out to the pot of tea next to a cup on the bedside table. It was cold to the touch.
Shouting a string of curses she’d picked up from Jem, she scampered from the bed searching for her riding breeches, and failing to find them threw the checked silk taffeta dress over her head and shook her hair back while she fumbled with the mass of intricate buttons. With a pair of slippers clasped in her hands she ran down the stairs barefooted.
‘Good morning, Lily.’
She ignored her aunt’s greeting. Panic laced her chest tighter than the hurriedly fastened buttons of her unaccustomed dress. “The horses. Are we too late? They should have been loaded hours ago.”
And from Matilda’s Freedom
His blood warmed as she approached and he saw the way her breeches hugged the sculpted curves of her thighs.
‘Good morning. I hope I haven’t kept you waiting.’ She turned to greet the horses and threw a smile at him over her shoulder.
The outline of her buttocks as she turned away from him took his breath away. She was not even remotely self-conscious and looked more comfortable now than in the tartan dress she’d worn on the evening they’d first met. Her supple fingers caressed the neck of her bay mare, and the horse whinnied its approval.
Kit understood why.
Note: Matilda is helping celebrate Lily’s release, and for a short time, Matilda’s Freedom is only 99¢ on Amazon!
About Lily’s Leap
From Escape’s Queen of Australian historical romance comes a story about a privileged member of Australian’s squattocracy, a bushranger, and a very special horse.
Born into the rough, but privileged society of the Australian colonial landowners, Lilibeth Dungarven finds herself married, widowed, and, much to her distress, back under her father’s thumb, all before her twenty-first birthday. Determined not to forgo her dream of breeding the perfect racehorse, Lilibeth ignores propriety and sets out to restore the family’s flagging fortunes.
When Captain Tom and his mismatched band of bushrangers stumble across a mob of the best horses they’ve ever seen, and the daughter of the famed Dungarven horse stud, they know their fortunes have changed. Their catch is worth a king’s ransom. All they have to do is hold her for seven days. How hard can it be to control the pampered daughter of a colonial upstart?
“Forget work, forget all your responsibilities and slide into this delicious story … a well-written book by a talented writer … since I doubt I’ll be visiting Australia, it was a treat to feel like I was there, herding horses to market across the Australian Outback. The landscape assumes the position of a character in this exciting romance; playing a pivotal role in Lily’s adventure. A fabulous read by a very talented Aussie author … I have no hesitation in HIGHLY recommending Lily’s Leap.”
Hunter Valley, Australia 1848
Lilibeth Dungarven’s cry of pure pleasure soared skywards as the massive black stallion rose to clear the fallen tree, sending the horrors of the last four years scuttling into the dirt of the ancient land.
Clenching her knees against Nero’s heaving flanks she bent low, ducking the overhanging branches framing the bush track, her cheek pressed to the warmth of his muscular neck. When the erratic pounding in her chest settled she drew Nero to a shuddering halt and pushed the damp curls back from her forehead.
A pair of black cockatoos, disturbed by her madcap gallop, shrieked their annoyance and resettled in the whispering casuarina trees. The crack of their beaks as they threw the mangled nuts to the ground filled the silence. Below her the ribbon of sandstone road weaved its way towards Payne’s Crossing and she shielded her eyes from the sun, searching for her mob of horses.
A glint of reflected sunlight drew her eye to a mounted figure in the middle of the road. Despite the hat pulled low shadowing his face, the stockwhip crack of his words registered deep in her belly.
‘Bail up! Guns down and off the horses.’
‘What do you think you…?’ Constricted by the tension in her throat her words petered out. No one would dare steal such a valuable mob of horses. They were branded. Everyone in the colony knew the Dungarven brand. To lose them was unthinkable. Years of breeding — the first pure Dungarven bloodlines. Months proving herself capable of managing the sale and the trip to Sydney. And now a hold up! It would not happen. Not if Lilibeth Dungarven had any say in the matter.
About the Author
Téa Cooper lives in a stone cottage on one hundred acres of bushland, just outside the time-warp village of Wollombi, NSW Australia. When she isn’t writing, Téa can be found haunting the local museum or chatting to the locals, who offer a never-ending source of inspiration.
In October, Jazz Baby, a 1920s rags to riches story set in Sydney will be released and in February 2015, Forgotten Fragrance, Book I of a family saga entitled From the Ocean to the Outback. At the moment she is working on a parallel time-line series called The Adventures of Miss Abigail Wynter. She has also written three contemporary romances.