About the Novel

In 1867, Henrietta Augusta Dugdale, dairywoman of Queenscliff, is pushed to breaking point and leaves her fourteen-year marriage. With access to her children denied, she enters the freethinking world of Melbourne bohemia and sets out to change the law that casts women as property, with no legal rights of their own.

A fearless crusader for women’s justice, the indefatigable ‘Mrs D.’ outclasses those who try to silence or belittle her, all the while haunted by the loss of her three sons, the dark undercurrents of the past and the mysterious fate of her first love.

From newfound facts and family memorabilia, Lynne Leonhardt has created a luminous tale of love, loss, triumph and fortitude, set against the evocative coastal landscape of Port Phillip Bay and the wonder-city of Melbourne at the height of the gold-rush boom. Step Up, Mrs Dugdale is an unforgettable portrait of a pioneering suffragist – a hero for women, a trailblazer for her time.

Her throat is a burning rush, heart beating so hard she can barely breathe. And some instinct deep inside her bones is telling her to run.

A few deep gasps, then she collects herself. Claps twice, gathering her three young sons together in the hallway.

‘Now, listen. Be good for Mama.’ Her voice cracks as she tries to temper her words. ‘We must leave for town immediately. Gather your clothes and any special playthings.’

They look up at her, uncertain.
‘Boys, boys! Go on now, hurry.’

From room to room she runs, emptying drawer-loads of clothes into boxes, stuffing them with as many precious items as will fit.

‘Right,’ she pants, ‘five minutes, boys. Wait for me by the front steps ready with the boxes, while I get the cart.’

Gathering her skirts, she sprints towards the harness shed. The mare pricks her ears and comes trotting.

‘There, steady, my friend, steady,’ she whispers. Gently slipping the collar over Gypsy’s head, she harnesses the mare and hitches her to the large spring cart.

No time for doubts. She gathers the reins between fumbling fingers and jumps into the cart. Boys and belongings aboard, they are off, flying over puddles and ruts, sticks and stones, at a crisp canter. Sweeps of grassland and straggling scrub flash past against an unforgivably grey sky, but not once does Henrietta look back.

The melancholy colours of the landscape begin to blur, her eyes watering in the wind, and, as they approach the shadowy tunnel of cypress, the boys clutch her, pale and quiet.

‘Hold tight, my darlings!’ Bouncing about on the seat, she can barely see, her heartbeat drowned by the rattle of wheels and the agonizing squeak of axle. God help her if he is waiting at the crossroads.