... she fell back upon the dust, amongst intimations of the nightmare which threatened to re-shape itself around her. Her trembling only gradually subsided as she lay fingering the ring threaded into her fringe of leaves...
A Fringe of Leaves, p 223
A young Cornish woman, Mrs Ellen Roxburgh, travels to the Australian colonies in the early 1830s with her much older husband, Austin, to visit the "black sheep" of the family, Austin's brother Garnet Roxburgh. After witnessing the brutalities of Van Diemens Land, the Roxburghs embark on their return trip to England on The Bristol Maid. However, the ship runs aground on the coral reef off Fraser Island on the coast of what is now Queensland. Ellen is the only survivor from the leaky vessel in which the passengers and crew travel to the shore. She is rescued by the aboriginal people of the island, and she later meets Jack Chance, a convict who has escaped from Moreton Bay (now Brisbane), the brutal penal settlement to the south. It is Chance who escorts her through the dangerous coastal territory south to the outskirts of the settlement, but who refuses to accompany her further and returns to his exile. She returns to "civilisation" transformed and tormented by her experience with Garnet in Van Diemen's Land, with the aboriginal people, and with Chance.
The novel sets in sharp relief the distinctions between men and women, whites and blacks, the convicts and the free, and English colonists and Australian settlers. The contrast between Ellen's rural Cornish background and the English middle-class she has married into is also highlighted.
To indulge in such an unlikely fancy could not be regarded in any degree as a betrayal, but while she walked, her already withered fringe of leaves began deriding her shrunken thighs, and daylight struck an ironic glint out of the concealed wedding-ring.
A Fringe of Leaves, p 229
The shipwreck and rescue parts of the novel reflect the experiences of Eliza Fraser, who was also shipwrecked on the island that bears her name, met with an escaped convict who had lived alongside the island's aboriginal people, and married a "Mr Jevons". She, however, eventually returned to the UK.
White's novel is (arguably recursively) often cited about Fraser Island and Eliza Fraser.