A novel to rival The Thorn Birds,"" we're told, but any resemblance thereto is purely superficial: yes, it's Australia, and, yes, it's saga-length, but this is really a small-scale, occasionally inventive, and modestly appealing meander through one life in one locale. It's the busy life of Delie Gordon, orphaned by shipwreck, raised on a riverbank near the Australian Alps by neurotic Aunt Hester and philandering (with native servant-girls) Uncle Charles, robbed of her cousin-sweetheart when he drowns in a puddle, and obliged to go to work when her mini-fortune vanishes--except for her 1/25 share in a paddle steamer. Tinting photos in an Echuca shop and studying painting on the side, Delie is fulfilling her (rather pasted-on) feminist ideals, but. . . enter Brenton Edwards of the shining curls, the captain of the paddle-steamer, Delie's untender deflowerer, then her loving but condescending and unfaithful husband. That painting career must be abandoned as Delie joins Brenton on board, ""away into the outback with the man she loved,"" up and down river, giving (reluctant) birth to three noisy, boat-bound children--her first is born during a boat fire, her fourth is born Mongoloid and she allows it to suffocate. This scenic semi-misery ceases, however, when Brenton suffers a paralyzing stroke, Delie taking over the wheelhouse to become the river's only woman skipper--toughly efficient, knowledgeable about floods and boilers, painting up a storm, and nobly resistant to her many opportunities to be as unfaithful to Brenton as he was to her. Cato (Brown Sugar) keeps the ""She must follow where the river went"" lyricism to a tolerable minimum, and, if Delie is too saintly to enrapture much of today's romance audience (this was written almost twenty years ago), she's pleasant enough company for those partial to the landscape, detail, and easy-rolling rhythm of the river.