The story based on a novel by Colleen McCullough focuses on three generations of the Cleary family living on a sheep station in the Australian outback.
When the wealthy but now elderly owner of a large sheep farm in the outback of Australia realizes that her affections towards a banished but ambitious young priest will never be returned, she sets out to manipulate his life and career from the grave once she discovers him giving his attention to her young niece instead.
Having left Australia with a significant sum of holdings in hand willed to the Catholic Church by the wealthy socialite and sheep farmer Mary Carson, Father Ralph de Bricassart finds himself courted by power brokers within the Vatican. Meanwhile, the Drogheda Ranch suffers a devastating brush fire that spawns more tragedy in the Cleary family, and eventually leads to an uneasy reunion between Meggie and Father de Bricassart. However Meggie soon meets a young suitor who captures her heart.
Now married, living on a sugar cane plantation, and working as a maid in Queensland, Meggie finds her new husband is more interested in his own work and dalliances than in her. She bears him a child but is still unable to change his ways. Meanwhile, Father de Bricassart has moved up in the Church hierarchy and eventually returns to Australia as a Cardinal. And in yet another uneasy reunion between himself and Meggie, he finally succumbs to temptation by consummating forbidden love and breaking his vow of chastity.
Meggie has repeated the mistakes of her past by favoring her son over her daughter. She finally admits the truth about Dane's paternity to Ralph and reconciles with both her mother Fee and her daughter Justine.