BEST-selling author Nicole Alexander is living her dream of working on a farm by day and writing at night, writes SARAH HUDSON
For four generations, Nicole Alexander’s family has farmed a 10,000ha north-western NSW property.
Nicole's great grandfather, Frederick, settled the land in 1893, and is buried on the property, while her father, Ian, still farms at 81.
"Because I’m fourth generation, our family has a great sense of emotional attachment to the land," Nicole says of the mixed agricultural business near Moree, which produces Hereford beef cattle, Merino, White Suffolk fat lambs, as well as cropping.
"I’m working on a property where my ancestors have lived and worked and died before me. The fact they drove on the same roads and rode on the same tracks is very compelling for me."
So compelling is this link that it motivated Nicole to turn author.
Putting pen to paper during the quiet nights that followed a tough day on the farm, Nicole released her first book, The Bark Cutters, in 2010, which was the highest-selling rural literature debut in Australia.
With a four-book deal, she has followed this with A Changing Land in 2011, and, most recently, Absolution Creek, while Sunset Ridge will be released next year.
All are stories that explore the sense of continuity and love for the land inherent in most farmers.
"Now, most rural books are romance-based. In some ways my work goes beyond the rural literature genre. I’m trying to be more sweeping," says Nicole, who lives with her partner, David, on a neighbouring cotton farm.
"I’m not one for riding off into the sunset because that doesn’t happen a lot in my own life. I try to be more realistic. I’m trying to make it deeper so people think about issues and I’m also trying to give a broad view of rural Australia.
"My books all focus on people’s relationship to the land. I want people to see the land as a living, breathing thing."
Given her own love of the past, particularly genealogy, Nicole threads historical details throughout her books.
Many a night Nicole can be found tucked away in a spare room in the family homestead, absorbed in digging through storage boxes of archived material – old magazines, journals, diaries, all kept by her forefathers.
"In Absolution Creek I trawled through magazines from the 1920s to find details on everything from pressed metal ceilings to horse hair-stuffed furniture," she says.
"I went through the journals and diaries to find weather conditions for certain periods of the year."
Nicole grew up on the family property, learning through distance education, before attending boarding school. At the end of school she wanted to return to farming, but her parents encouraged her to branch out.
Nicole studied marketing, working in insurance for Ernst and Young, then for a lingerie company in Singapore. She was about to accept a position with the National Trust in Sydney in 1996 when her parents suggested a return home.
"I was going to stay for 12 months but I’ve never left," says Nicole, who has two brothers and a sister, but is the only one who has shown a bent to agriculture.
"When I first came back it was very male-dominated.
"It took a while for me to be accepted by the men on the property, to earn my stripes – I don’t blame them, taking instruction from someone who has been on the property for six months.
"But I made a decision to get out in the paddock and work side-by-side with the men."
Suffice to say, she earned her stripes.
These days the 45-year-old says it’s all about juggling her two full-time jobs: farmer and author.
"It’s hard doing what I’m doing. I have to be disciplined, but it’s also a tremendous opportunity.
"On my recent book tour I came back for the weekend because we were mustering steers and I always do the weighing and pencilling.
"I’m lucky I’m a jeans girl who wears white shirts and coloured scarves wherever I go."