Friday 5 June 2020

Book Review: An Alice Girl by Tanya Heaslip

An Alice Girl
Tanya Heaslip

Publisher:  Allen & Unwin
Publication date: 19th May 2020
Genre: Non Fiction / Memoir
Pages: 344
RRP: $32.99 AUD
Format read: Paperback
Source: Courtesy of the publisher

An extraordinary story of growing up in the late 1960s and early 70s on an outback cattle property

Whether working the mobs of cattle with the stockmen, playing cattleduffing on horseback or singing and doing lessons at their School of the Air desks, Tanya Heaslip and her siblings led a childhood unimaginable to many Australians. Growing up on a vast and isolated cattle property just north of Alice Springs, Tanya tells of wild rides, of making far-flung friends over the Air, of the dangers, the fun and the back-breaking work. As the eldest child, her added responsibility was to look after the littler ones, so she was by their sides dealing with snakes, the threat of bushfires and broken bones.

Tanya's parents, Janice and Grant 'the Boss' Heaslip, were pioneers. They developed Bond Springs Station where water was scarce, where power was dependent on generators and where a trip to town for supplies meant a full day's journey. Grant was determined to teach his children how to survive in this severe
environment and his lessons were often harsh. In a childhood that most would consider very tough, Tanya tells of this precious time with raw honesty, humour, love and kindness. This is the story of an Alice girl.
An Alice Girl is the memoir of Tanya Heaslip’s life growing up on a remote cattle station just north of Alice Springs. The story includes her parents early life. Tanya’s memoir is a candid warts and all tale of growing up in this harsh land. Their triumphs and struggles.

Life was hard and filled with responsibility not only for the adults, the children were expected to work as well. Tanya tells of long days helping her father with the stock and the deep connection to the land that develops when it is your life blood, your whole existence. I was actually a bit shocked at how hard the children had to work.

the land would soon shape the way I felt and thought and lived. It was like an anchor deep inside, holding me fast to the rocks and earth and hills around me.”

Governesses, school of the air, illness, snakes, redbacks, accidents, lack of water, fire; life lessons were hard in such an isolated place.

We knew that death was ever present in our world. Many things could kill us in the bush.”

Tanya’s life although remote was also filled with friendship and community get togethers and I could just picture the family squashed together in the Heaslip’s little plane, hot and excited, off to visit friends and family.
Even though the Heaslip children’s lives were busy they still did many things me and my siblings did as children of the 70’s. Much the same games and activities, although I must admit we had a lot more free time. Tanya’s most memorable present of a typewriter when she was 10 brought back my own memories of receiving a typewriter for Christmas when I was 11 and like Tanya it was my most precious present ever.

The 24 pages of colour plate photographs of the Heaslip family makes you feel like you are a treasured friend sharing in their life.

Tanya’s memoir ends at the age of 12 as she leaves to attend boarding school. A heart-wrenching scene. But we all know Tanya goes on to great adventures in Alice in Prague. However her love for the land never leaves her.

An Alice Girl is an awe inspiring story of hardship, endurance, determination and ultimately triumph over the elements to make a living in the harshest of conditions.

My rating 4/5          ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Tanya Heaslip was born on a cattle station in outback Australia at the height of the Cold War. She grew up to study and then practice Law. In 1989 she travelled to Europe for the first time and in 1994 she moved to the Czech Republic where she taught English for two and a half years. Tanya's first memoir, Alice to Prague, was published to acclaim in 2019.

Tanya now lives in the Northern Territory with her husband. 

This review is part of the Book Lover Book Review Aussie author challenge

  the Australian Women Writers challenge  and the Non Fiction reader challenge



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