Marking this year’s International Women’s Day, Charlotte Wood discussed her award-winning book, The Natural Way of Things,  at a National Library event.

Speaking with The Guardian’s, Katherine Murphy, Wood described her experiences of writing the book, which focuses on 10 young women waking from a drugged sleep to find themselves in a run-down, Australian sheep station where they are isolated (no computers or telephones) and subjected to cruel treatment and hard labour from their male oppressors, including having their heads shaved and being tethered together. That their surroundings were home to poisonous snakes and bounded by a high-powered electrified 30-foot fence, adds to a frightening scene.

The women have something in common: they have all been involved in sex scandals with powerful men, ranging from experiences for Isobel the airline girl, Hetty the cardinal’s girl, Lydia from cruise ships to Verla, the politician’s mistress.

Wood exposes many aspects of how patriarchy plays out across society. As events transpire and the food runs out, the oppressors are unable to feed themselves or escape it becomes about survival of the fittest. The women seem unable to shake off ingrained habits of passivity and obedience towards men and at times, they turn on each other.

In talking with Murphy, Wood spoke of a 1960s situation when 10 young girls were charged by the state with being “exposed to moral danger” under the extremely harsh laws of the time, transported from Parramatta Girls’ Home to incarceration in Hay, NSW, where were to spend inordinate amounts of time locked up and subjected to abuse and cruelty at the behest of guards.

The Natural Way of Things reminds readers of the vastly different lives which the women previously led, with anecdotes and thoughts sprinkled here and there about of the men who they miss but don’t seem to be doing anything to help now. Despite its very gruesome descriptions and stories of cruelty, the book is hard to put down. Stories of resorting to eat rabbits (caught and processed by the very resourceful Yolanda) and of Verla’s equally resourceful plan to exterminate their guards add to this captivating story.

Image from Illawarra Mercury