The Last of the Apple Blossom

book review

The Last of the
Apple Blossom

written by
Mary-Lou Stephens
review by
todd kuchel

On February 7, 1967, a bushfire ravaged much of Tasmania to ash; a dreadful disaster that is now remembered as Black Tuesday. 

The Last of the Apple Blossoms is the debut novel by Mary-Lou Stephens, told through the perspectives of both Catherine Turner, and Annie Pearson who endure the tortures of that day and beyond.

From the opening paragraph, it is impossible to not feel hurled into the turmoil of that day, following the desperate efforts of young Catherine as she rushes from Hobart to her family home in the Huon Valley.

I was in Hobart when the fires hit the National Park in 2018.

That fierce glow was incredibly unnerving as it increased over Mount Wellington.

Though the danger was real and resulted in much destruction, its scale was nothing compared to the disaster in 1967.

Though, making my way on the edge of danger that day enabled me to really picture Catherine’s troubles through the burning forest.

Sadly, upon reaching her family’s farm, Catherine finds death and devastation.

Although these characters are fictional, the emotional distress and behaviour described by Mary-Lou, are so great that I found myself at times wanting to hug my children and not let them go.

How does a family repair a life that has been burnt to ashes?”

Catherine’s childhood friend and neighbour, Annie and her husband, Dave work to repair the damages to their own property.

Against Annie’s wishes, Dave’s friend, Mark also pitches in.

Mark has moved his family to the valley to escape his life in Melbourne, but his wife has disappeared, leaving behind their young son, Charlie.

Amongst their efforts to keep the apple industry alive, Catherine becomes fond of Charlie, whose upbringing has left him shy and withdrawn.

As the friendship between Mark and Catherine develops, not only does it scandalise the small community but threatens a secret that Annie is desperate to keep hidden.

Beginning in 1967 and concluding in the present day, this historical fiction is an extremely fascinating and well researched story that follows the lives of these characters beyond the natural disaster.

I believe it is well worth a read and will appeal to almost every reader.

The Last of the Apple Blossom is now available from the Ravens Parlour book store Tanunda.

Todd Kuchel

contributor // The barossa mag
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