At the beginning of the 1900s, the town of Byron, famous for its bottled water, is owned by the Hurlingford clan. And so is almost everyone in it, including the Hurlingford spinsters and widows – poverty-stricken, bullied, cheated and patronised by the Hurlingford men who ‘know what’s best’. Missy Wright, thirty-something spinster, her mother and maiden aunt are in this class – and with no dowry and regarded as plain, she feels there is no hope. She is tired of wearing respectable brown dresses and longs for a scarlet lace dress with a matching hat. Even going to her cousin Alicia’s wedding doesn’t get her out of respectable brown. Then the mysterious John Smith buys the local valley out from under the outraged noses of the Hurlingfords. Who is he? Why does he want to live alone in the bush, here of all places? Una, a Hurlingford with a purple past who’s come to work in the lending library, seems to know something about John Smith and she begins to sow the seeds of rebellion in poor, plain Missy Wright – and when Missy launches into a full scale revolt, she makes uproar for the entire town!