Just Another Stray by Philip Fitzpatrick, KDP Australia, 279pp, ISBN: 9798782206581, paperback AU$15.40, Kindle AU$1.00. Available here from Amazon Australia
She closed the photo file and stared at the background image on her desktop. It was a photograph of Tom and Sophie in the front paddock with Rosie the dog, Anthony the horse and Pricklebum the sheep.
Sophie was sitting on Anthony’s back and Tom was holding his halter and smiling up at the little girl.
After several moments she made up her mind. She opened a blank word document and began typing.
“One day my father arrived home with a little girl he had found by the roadside.”
Australia is a rules based society with the nuclear family, consisting of a mother and father and their children, as the norm.
This configuration is the one that best suits the economic interests of both business and government in developed countries like Australia.
In reality however nuclear families only represent about 33% of households in Australia.
Single parent families, couples-only families, non-related family households and extended families are among the many common variations that now exist.
There are multiple reasons for these other configurations but the laws do not generally cater for the complexities that affect them.
When Tom McNiven arrives at his daughter’s farm with the frightened and traumatised four year old Sophie he has every intention of handing her over to the authorities.
Sophie, on the other hand has other ideas. Despite her young age she sees her chance meeting with Tom as an opportunity to reinvent herself and gain what she has always craved - a family.
As the days wear on and they become more and more endeared to the little girl Tom and his daughter’s resolve to contact the authorities’ wanes.
When they discover that the little girl’s mother has apparently committed suicide and there is no known father they begin to seriously consider taking over her care.
However, their enquiries about their options for continuing to care for her presents them with a confusing and convoluted legal system that appears illogical, devoid of compassion and with no certainty of a successful outcome.
When they decide to ignore the law they embark on a precipitous journey. Along the way, however, they are heartened by the different people who sympathise with what they are doing and offer their help.
Included among them is the local policeman and an indigenous couple with a menagerie of customarily adopted and fostered children of various shades and origins.
As Sophie develops and grows under their care they also discover how her presence in their lives has its own healing effects.
They also discover that her backstory, involving her abandonment by the roadside and then the apparent suicide of her mother is not as simple as it seems.
When an extortion attempt based on threats to reveal Sophie’s origins occurs, her future suddenly becomes threatened.
How this progresses with the assistance of her band of sympathisers involves many twists and turns.
Despite the serious overriding theme the story is told with gentle humour in a narrative that is ultimately more heart-warming than sad.
The story of Sophie, just another stray, could be the story of many of those lost and abandoned children.