The Secret Fate of Mary Watson
The Secret Fate of Mary Watson is Judy Johnson’s second book and first work of fiction. At first I thought the story must be based on that of Eliza Fraser, after whom Fraser Island is named, but the writer firmly establishes Mary Watson’s bona fide, quoting documents held in the John Oxley Library in Brisbane. As the reader is swept along not knowing which incident is fact and which fiction, Johnson seems to have almost channelled Watson.
The reader at times struggles to suspend disbelief. It is almost impossible to accept that in far North Queensland, in 1879, this feisty, educated, young woman, not yet out of her teens, was able to find a job as a piano player in a brothel and at the same time engage in espionage and smuggling. But all these amazing things Mary does, drawing on what seems to be an inexhaustible inbuilt store of cunning, duplicity and forward thinking.
Regardless of her cleverness and her ‘whatever it takes’ attitude to managing her life, Mary is still totally, physically vulnerable, particularly in her marriage of convenience to Robert Watson and her later pregnancy. Her bravery is amazing as she deals with angry aboriginals on remote Lizard Island .She also inspires a fierce loyalty from the Chinese servant Ah Sam and, by now, also from the reader.
This book is a good fast read, with an amazingly contrived twist in the tail.