Review: The Ghost by the Billabong by Jackie French - A breathtaking novel which captures the Australian spirit

Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Ghost by the Billabong by Jackie French
Series: Matilda Saga #5
Released: 1st December 2015
Published by: HarperCollins Australia
Genre: YA/Adult Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher
Pages: 544
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Hippies wear beads, demonstrators march against the Vietnam War, and the world waits to see the first human steps on the moon's surface.

But at Gibbers Creek, Jed Kelly sees ghosts, from the past and future, at the Drinkwater billabong where long ago the swaggie leaped to his defiant death. But is seventeen-year-old Jed a con artist or a survivor? When she turns up at Drinkwater Station claiming to be the great-granddaughter of Matilda Thompson's dying husband, Jed clearly has secrets. As does a veteran called Nicholas, who was badly wounded in the Vietnam War and now must try to create a life he truly wants to live, despite the ghosts that haunt him too.

Set during the turbulence of the late 1960s, this was a time when brilliant and little-known endeavours saw Australia play a vital role in Neil Armstrong's 'one giant leap for mankind' on that first unforgettable moon walk.

The fifth title in the highly acclaimed Matilda Saga, The Ghost by the Billabong is a story of deep conflicts and enduring passions - for other people, for the land, and for the future of humanity.
Thank you to HarperCollins Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Reading a Jackie French novel always provides so much more than a few hours of contentment between the pages of a book. This novel, like all the others which came before it in the Matilda saga, is really something else, something special. Set against the backdrop of the late 1960's, The Ghost by the Billabong not only provides a snapshot of the major events and ideas prevalent at that time in Australian history, but a sincere narrative that I was immediately drawn into.

Men might step onto the moon today, but mankind had watched the moon and stars from this spot for tens of thousands of years. She felt the wind of time sweep about her.

Not only was this book a phenomenal read; it made me even more interested in delving further into the history of our nation. At a time when excitement surrounding the anticipated moon landing was at an all-time high, French offers a perspective which we may not have properly known of before. Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station which features in the story did actually exist and played a role in that momentous event. In today's age when technological advances are fast exceeding even our wildest expectations, the author has truly conveyed the wonder felt by the people at that time witnessing such a feat. For Matilda's ailing husband Tommy it offered a vision at what is beyond our homeland, and for Jed the hope that we can always be something more; that even the most troubled past does not need to obscure the hope for a better future.

He'd fought to save everyone's sisters and nieces back in the war. She supposed he'd done this for them too. That was the trouble with love and protectiveness. It kept on spreading, till you loved the world, and wanted to keep it safe.

As always the character development in this novel is masterfully crafted. Jackie French has been able to weave the stories of all the characters from the previous novels, creating a plot which explores the nuances of their life experiences while retaining a central focus on a new protagonist. I love how even after I finished the other four books in the series, the stories of the characters I came to resonate with did not end there. That in itself is just one thing which makes these books so enthralling. The multiple perspectives alongside Jed's enrich the story further, as we come to understand their innermost thoughts, longings and dreams as to what might be. Jed was a complex character whose life experiences and hardships had shaped her into a savvy young woman who although fiercely independent, did desperately want to be part of a family. Making overtures towards the time period in To Love a Sunburnt Country, Nicholas had scars from the Vietnam war, both seen with the loss of his legs, and those unseen which go so much deeper.

She had known hat her grip on happiness was too fragile, after those war years, to leave here. She was Nancy of the Overflow. Overflow was part of her, just as she was part of it. Travel too far from these plains, these hills, the river, and she would wither like an autumn leaf and blow away.

What links Jed, Nicholas and Nancy whose life also features heavily in the novel, is their resilience. It is the striking combination of the tangible aspects of these characters' lives, especially their connection to the land, and the intangible emotions which shape them, that gives this series its spark. The portrayal of kindness, and kin being bound by more than blood, makes for a heartwarming story I will never forget. Yes, I did shed a few tears, but when you come across a tale that is as beautifully written and emotional as this, you really can't help it. Ultimately this is a story of finding forgiveness, and the humanity in all of us; where time and space may change, but the land is a constant which holds communities and brings them together.

He knew he didn't have to say it to Jed, for she understood. Knew that Nancy's, Michael's, Matilda's love of this piece of land linked them slowly, inexorably, across New South Wales, to Australia, then across the oceans, to the entire planet. They did not need to see Earth from space to know that this one planet held them all.


In all, The Ghost by the Billabong is a breathtaking story which artfully incorporates the real and incorporeal. It offers the reminder that as humans the bonds between us in the present, can be created stronger than we could have ever imagined.


  1. May I just say that I absolutely love your style of writing! :) It's exquisite and straightforward, and the way you described each story elements! Wow. I just wanted to let you know that you're really good at writing and critiquing each element!

    About that book -- it looks so interesting! I love how it showcases a lot of Australian elements into it! I've never been to Australia, but I've had friends who moved there. It's a really lovely place :) Jed sounds like a great character!

    Thank you for the review! And lovely blog, I'm glad to have stumbled upon it :) I also might check this one out, so thank you for sharing.

    Jillian @ Jillian's Books

    1. Hi Jillian,
      Wow that's so lovely of you to say :) Thank you so much for your kind words, I'm so glad that you liked the review and hope that you get to read this series one day!

  2. I don't think I've ever read a Jackie French novel, which seems a bit like blasphemy or something lol wonderful review Eugenia, I really enjoyed reading it :) I might finally have to check out some of her work!

    1. You definitely should Wattle - they're amazing reads, especially this series which is so special. Thank you!


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