Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 809
Australia Felix, 1917
Richard Mahony, one of many Englishmen lured to Australia to seek a fortune in the gold fields. He is never truly happy or at ease in his adopted country. Trained as a doctor, he abandons his profession to make a living as a shopkeeper in a rough mining community. His success is only marginal until after his marriage. At his wife’s urging, he returns to medical practice. He has never been skilled at dealing with people, being introspective, sensitive, critical, and at times brutally honest. With the help of his wife’s charm, however, he gradually attracts a practice of well-to-do patients. Unfortunately, even this achievement leaves him unsatisfied; he is always looking for something and someplace better, moving his family from location to location.
Mary Turnham, who becomes Richard’s wife. When he marries her, she is very young and working as a family helper at Beamish’s Inn. She admires Richard greatly, although it is her personality that enables him to become a success. She likes most people and is inclined to think well of them. She remains loyal to Richard, at first from admiration and respect and later as a defense against recognizing his weaknesses. She eventually realizes that some of his desires are foolish, even destructive.
Purdy Smith, Mahony’s boyhood friend from Dublin. In Australia, they are close at first because of these memories. Purdy sides with the workers and the rebels, however, eventually finding his former friend too distant and aristocratic. Richard, on the other hand, dismisses Purdy as coarse and vulgar. The friendship between the two is further harmed when Purdy falls in love with Mary.
John Turnham, Mary’s older brother, the first of the family to go to Australia. He quickly became successful. After the death of his first wife, he rejects his children, sending them to live with Mary and Richard. He goes on to become a successful politician.
Tilly Beamish Ocock
Tilly Beamish Ocock, the daughter of the inn owners who employed Mary Turnham. She is jovial and a little vulgar. Her relationship with Purdy brought Mary and Richard together. Her rather vulgar manner is toned down after her marriage to Mr. Ocock, an older man who is the Mahonys’ neighbor.
Henry Ocock, the lawyer son of Mahony’s neighbor. He is arrogant and supercilious, seeming to lack warmth. As Mahony’s wealth increases, the relationship between the two improves. When his father meets Tilly at the Mahonys’ and subsequently marries her, Henry is furious.
Sarah (or Sara or Zara, depending on her choice of name), Mary’s sister. She always insists on being the height of fashion. She flits from place to place, relying on her charm and glamour to pave her way.
The Way Home, 1925
Richard Mahony, a rich man, having made a fortune on stocks. He is dissatisfied with his life, however, dragging his wife to England to fulfill his dream of returning home. As always, the reality is less satisfactory to Mahony than either his dreams or his memories, and the couple return to Australia. Having placed his fortune in the hands of an unscrupulous speculator, he loses the bulk of his money. He becomes fascinated with spiritualism.
Mary, who is rejected as coarse and provincial by the British society her husband longs to join, even though she was considered a prominent beauty in Australia. He is both protective and ashamed of her lack of social awareness. When they return to Australia, she is delighted. Soon afterward, she has a son and then twins.
Tillie Ocock Smith
Tillie Ocock Smith, Mary’s source of emotional and financial support. She is loud but is lavish with money and generous with her spirit. Richard dislikes her intensely because of her common behavior.
Purdy Smith, who is married to Tilly. He settles down but is not reconciled with his old friend. His advice causes Mahony’s ruin.
Sarah, who is no longer able to survive by her glamour. She marries Hempel, Mahony’s former clerk, whom she once despised.
Ultima Thule, 1929
Richard Mahony, who is plagued by the loss of both his money and his prominent position in the medical community. He squanders the rest of his savings trying to recoup. Eventually he goes mad, burning all of his papers, thus placing his family in total financial ruin. He becomes childlike, dependent on Mary for everything.
Mary, who becomes a postmistress in the outback to support herself, her children, and Richard after Richard loses the family wealth. She rescues him from a state-run asylum, treating him at home until his death.
Henry Ocock, who helps Mary in her desperate quest to rescue Richard and to support herself and her children.