Calling all readers: if you are looking for a summer reading program to join in, I’m hosting one because I couldn’t find a good one to join :). You can read about it here and all are welcome.
“I started reading this late Friday afternoon. It was cold and I was out of sorts. I wanted to connect with you, so I started our next book.”
I have no idea what state of mind, heart, or weather you began reading The Road from Coorain, but I bet it met you where you were.
If you haven’t had a chance yet to pick it up, do. Amazon describes the part we read for today (Chapters one and two) this way:
“Jill Ker Conway was seven before she ever saw another girl child. At eight, still too small to mount her horse unaided, she was galloping miles, alone, across Coorain, her parents’ thirty thousand windswept, drought-haunted acres in the Australian outback, doing a ‘man’s job’ of helping herd the sheep because World War II had taken away the able-bodied men. She loved (and makes us see and feel) the vast unpeopled landscape, beautiful and hostile, whose uncertain weathers tormented the sheep ranchers with conflicting promises of riches and inescapable disaster. She adored (and makes us know) her large-visioned father and her strong, radiant mother, who had gone willingly with him into a pioneering life of loneliness and bone-breaking toil, who seemed miraculously to succeed in creating a warmly sheltering home in the harsh outback.”
I remember when I first went to the field in my mid-to-late-twenties. It was so disorienting, not to be on “the other side of the world,” but to have no context. To go from being known to having absolutely no one in my life who knew nothing outside of what I told them. What I love about this memoir is the way we are introduced to Ker Conway by first getting to know her context.
Ker Conway backs up and spends a chapter letting us taste and see the world in Western Australia she was born into. We got to know her environment before we got to know her.
I do not tend to be drawn to lengthy descriptions of places. I’ll be honest, I wish I were. Somehow it seems that “deep” people, appreciate them more than I do (which feeds the lie that I am “not deep,” whatever that means!). That being said, I was drawn to Ker Conway’s descriptions of Western Australia in the 1930s, so much so, I wanted to learn more—a sign of good writing!
How about this line: “On the plains, the earth meets the sky in a sharp black line so regular that it seems as though drawn by a creator interested more in geometry than the hills and valleys of the Old Testament.”
Or how about this: “The bush ethos which grew up from making a virtue out of loneliness and hardship built on the stoic virtues of convict Australia. Settled life and domesticity were soft and demoralizing. A ‘real man’ despised com oft tan scorned the expression of emotion.” A few paragraphs later she went on to describe the ideal woman as one who was a good manager. As I read these pages, it made me wonder what we still make virtues out of. I know historically people in our line of work were revered for “suffering.” And there is still plenty of suffering.
But when is suffering or hardships or loneliness part of the call and when have they been turned into false virtues?
By the end of chapter one I wrote in my notes: Poetic Writing—beautiful capturing of the sense of bleakness and harshness of life.
Chapter two, entitled Coorain, provides the background of her parents, their personalities, and how they met and married. Several points reminded me of our lives.
- Coming home from WWI her father did not qualify for a land grant because he was single. Last week I was talking with a man in his mid-20s and he was paid considerably less than other married men at the church they serve in. Why? “Because you don’t have to be a provider for your family.” Though he is more qualified and educated than his married friend who is earning 2.5 times what my friend is. In ministry, in this day and age, it still “rankles,” as it did Mr. Ker.
- Her mom being so far from medical care! As a trained nurse, she had it both better than and worse than others in her position. On the one hand, Mrs. Ker could provide some medical care for her family. But she was probably more aware of what they didn’t have than someone (like me) who would be clueless.
- Having to make sacrifices in her career for marriage and living in such an isolated place.
And then to picture Jill, age seven, out riding a horse and helping her dad with the animals. I have fond memories as a child helping my dad with tasks—painting, gardening, doing things around the house—but nothing quite like this! Those of you raised in rural areas, what sort of odd jobs or responsibilities did you have?
I think understanding Jill Ker Conway’s context will help us interpret her story as it unfolds. How have you helped others on the field know your context?
See you in the comments!
P.S. Reading plan for next week and June