Union Belle

Union Belle
(HarperCollins Publishers NZ, 2005) # 1 bestseller
Premier New Zealand Bestseller Award: BRONZE


When the first effects of the 1951 waterfront workers’ strike ripple through the country, Ellen McCabe – wife, mother, union supporter – is happy with her life in Pukemiro, a small Waikato coal-mining town. Even when her husband’s union lays down their tools in support and the strain of making ends meet begins to wear her down, she’s ready to play her part in the lean months ahead.
But when Jack Vaughan comes to town, something inside her shifts. Jack is handsome, a charismatic war veteran – and a friend of her husband’s. Suddenly everything changes, with irrevocable consequences, as the turmoil and divided loyalties swirling through the town threaten to tear her apart.
Union Belle is a story of love, duty and passion played out against the backdrop of the infamous strike that turned friends into enemies, shattered communities and almost brought New Zealand to its knees.

Also published in Large Print in the UK

Behind this book…

I was born in Huntly and grew up there, and it was the strangest experience researching the 1951 miners’ strike because it all meant something to me – the names, the meeting places, the streets, the shops. And so did all the little towns like Pukemiro and Glen Afton and Rotowaro – except that Rotowaro, of course, is now just a giant hole in the ground. It was the most amazing thing bringing them to life again more or less the way they’d been in the 1950s. Almost spooky.



‘Union Belle is a damned good read…Challinor has a Ph.D from the University of Waikato and researched the historical detail right down to what people ate and drank, what they grew in their vegetable gardens, and train timetables. She knows what life must have been like in the everyone-knows- your-business small towns of Pukemiro, Rotowaro and Glen Afton. You can smell the beer and cigarette smoke in the public bar of the Huntly Hotel, hear the band at the Saturday night dances in the miners’ hall…It’s a book I kept sneaking back to whenever I had a spare quarter of an hour, eager to advance the story. It would make a great New Zealand movie. There wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house.’
North & South, April 2005


‘Union Belle is a clever and honest read…Read it for the exquisite love story and the candid exploration of small-town Kiwi life in the 1950s. It will have the most cynical of you wondering if you’ll ever meet your true love.’
Herald on Sunday, March 2005


‘Challinor has an easy style that lures the reader into a world of feuding miners and scabs, hardship and heartache, weaving a compelling history into her skilfully penned novel. Characters are colourful and convincingly portrayed in the early fifties setting. The author’s use of actual union negotiations and the Queen Street melee, complement the plot. And what a great way to absorb history. Enjoyed it immensely!
Wanaka Sun News, April 2005

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