It is the late 1950s — the dawn of the civil rights and women’s movements. The naïve idealism of the children of this era is often at odds with the status quo. Ruth, the only daughter of coffee plantation owners, John and Alice Madison, has gone against her father’s wishes and must now forsake the lush Owen Stanley Ranges of Papua New Guinea for the streets of working-class Sydney. She finds herself disgraced and alone in a foreign land and learns to live by her wits to avoid sinking into a life of prostitution and poverty — until circumstances take a turn for the worse.
Her son, Stewart, becomes her driving force. Wanting to make a better life for him, Ruth leaves behind her hand-to-mouth life in Sydney to work in the vast, rugged plains of Outback New South Wales. Here, she meets and marries the widowed Lachlan McGrath, owner of Bryliambone station. Life on the land is good until fate turns Ruth’s world upside down, and she faces the loss of everything she has accomplished. Driven to provide for her children, she sets about rebuilding her husband's debt-ridden business into a thriving cotton farm. Just as her life is again coming together, news arrives of her father’s suspicious death. Ruth returns to the islands to sort out his affairs, only to face the shocking secrets that had fractured her family years before.