Today we are discussing Chapters 3, 4, and 5 in The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway. Conway impressed me with her ability to show the reader what her life was like in such a way I was like a fly on the wall. Conway found the perfect balance between telling enough of the horrors that I could feel the grit of the sand between my toes, see the sheep corpses, want to curse those burlap troughs, and found friendship in unlikely places.
So much of her life was unique, yet universal to many of our experiences.
Friendships—as a young girl, Conway didn’t have the luxury of many people to choose as friends. Her brothers and the people who came to work at Coorain were her only options. One of the greatest parts of living overseas is the way the concept of who can be a friend broadens when the pool narrows.
News—Conway and her family trying to stay informed and connected to the world, especially during WWII (or as Conway called it The 1939-1945 War), by listening to the radio and later the short wave radio. The internet and various avenues for getting information have made it easier to get information. But when you are far away, staying informed and connected is a part of life. News can include family news, political news, or world news. When you want to know about something, you want to know!
Joy of visitors—Whether the books that came from the lending library or the men that came for two weeks during shearing season, the visits were anticipated and longed for. You could sense the joy of conversation in the evenings as the Kers would stay up late talking with Mac.
Education—As I read about all the effort that went into schooling, I thought, “Oh we know this world.” The Kers had a governess, her brothers attended boarding school, and then Jill had correspondence courses. Later, when Jill and her mom had moved to town, finances also played into what they could afford. I felt the tension of trying to educate their children in one location (Australia) while taking another system (British) into account. I understand that the parents’ colonial mindset is a different driving force than for many of us in our lives on the field. And for each person reading this, your context is different; some of your cultures have educational systems that are easier to join (and some nearly impossible for outsiders), some have very different values of what makes an educated person, and even the amount of nationalities that need to be considered. All this to say no simple or easy answer exists when it comes to educating your children. It was helpful to read what the Kers did and realize that educational decisions and pressures are nothing new.
World, Natural, and Family Disasters—I was impressed with Conway’s ability to shoot straight about what was happening, including enough details to smell the dead sheep, feel the absence of their dad after his death without being able to grieve, and how Bob wasn’t sure what to do with his life when the War ended (taking with it his purpose in adulthood). War. Drought. Death. Financial Pressure. Role Reversal. Sibling Death. Talk about tragedy.
Integration of Worlds—I first noticed with when Bob and Barry returned from school for a couple of weeks and Conway wrote “the two worlds were not easy to mesh.” Bob, Barry, and Jill were TCKs as they were asked to move between worlds. Later, when Jill and her mom moved to Sydney, Jill said, “I was used to knowing better than more people what needed to be done. Here I was the veriest incompetent, not only in games, but in the classroom, where there were also rules to be learned.”
Role Reversal—I am willing to bet I was not alone in being distressed when Jill had to take on such adult roles with her own parents. I was surprised because they had a good marriage, neither were slackers, and substance abuse (like alcoholism) weren’t factors. The isolated environment of Coorain seemed to be the main factor that pushed Jill into adult roles. Could you believe at age seven she was doing such adult work?! Her father’s death certainly didn’t help to right the roles.
And now Bob has died. I cannot even imagine. The way that Barry and Jill went about informing their mother perpetuated the role reversals. We haven’t touched much on the socio economic or racial implications of Jill’s life and her social status. Let’s do that and more in the comments. What would you like to say or ask in response to these chapters?
P.S. Reading plan for June