Fran McMillan, a thirty-something chisel-wielding woman, is camped at Mount Clear in Namadgi National Park, escaping the heat of a Queensland summer, when she encounters Kelvin, one of a group of men from Canberra restoring a high-country hut. She inveigles her way into the work party — a weekend that changes her life.
As Fran works on the hut, she hears the fragmented story of the pioneering Thompson family who came to live in the harsh Snow Belt in 1909, and of Yenohan, an Aboriginal girl who befriended their daughter, Eleanor. Love also pays Fran a brief visit during the weekend when she follows Kelvin into the wilderness.
Fran returns to Queensland and resumes furniture making until a disaster calls her back south: it is January 2003, and wildfires are racing through the Alps, ravaging the national park, destroying lovingly-restored huts in their path and altering the nature of the Australian High Country forever.
In Queensland, Fran watches television reports in disbelief as a firestorm engulfs the outer suburbs of Canberra, consuming 500 homes and four people. For three days, she tries to contact Kelvin. On the fourth she throws her backpack into her car and drives south to Canberra to face the truth — and Kelvin’s wife and family.
Whilst in Canberra Fran visits Tilly Anderson (a descendant of the Thompson family) and the final pieces of the puzzle surrounding the relationship between the family and Yenohan fall into place.