Cumulative Disasters {Book Club}

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


  1. M'Lynn June 13, 2017

    “All in all, what might on the surface appear like a lonely childhood, especially after the departure of my brothers, was one filled with interest, stimulation, and friends…this world gave me most of what we need in life, and gave it generously. I had the total attention of both my parents, and was secure in the knowledge of being loved.” Ch 3, p 48

    Thinking about childhood for TCKs and how different that can look from childhood in one’s home country and all the issues it can bring, if we look for the blessing and the good in the situation, we’ll find it just as Ker Conway states here. As a parent, it reminds me that anywhere life takes us, we can bless our children by giving them our time and attention and keep them secure in the knowledge of being loved by both parents and God. I’m thankful that even after enduring all the tragedy (in the story this statement comes pre-drought, war, death, etc but she’s writing this later in life) the author looks back and sees the good of her childhood.

    “It was an idyllic world.” P 48

    The last sentence of chapter 3 where childhood, family, herd and life are still intact. If only we didn’t have to turn the page and continue to chapter 4!!!!

    “The question which tormented my parents was whether to let [the sheep] die, or invest more in maintaining them. If they died, fifteen years of careful attention to the bloodlines was lost.” (Ch 4, p 60)

    We can relate here. People working overseas at some point have to up and leave (sometimes by choice and sometimes by force of circumstances) and feel the loss of “fifteen years of careful attention.” Thankfully we serve a God who continues on with careful attention (toward us and the work we leave behind) even after we leave!

    “Without discussing the subject with anyone, I concluded that the God who was supposed to heed the fall of the sparrow had a lesser morality than humans. Each clap of dry thunder and each vista of starving animals made the notion of a loving God a mockery.” (Ch 4, p 62)

    Drought (in the actual sense of the word and the spiritual sense) sure can test one’s theology! I’m thinking of the Psalms and how they’ve been a real and present help in previous times of drought for me!!! Also, she didn’t have anyone to discuss these things with…reminding me of how good and helpful it is to walk through drought and tragedy with the company of Godly friends. And….is anyone else reminded of “Consider the Birds” (aka THE BIRD BOOK)???

  2. M'Lynn June 13, 2017

    Amy, I liked the themes you pulled from these chapters. Especially the points on education. All so true! Having experience with international schools, I’ve been interested in the author’s point about the confusion it can cause students while learning from curriculum tailored to a British point of view while living elsewhere. And yeah…it was a different colonial era, but I’ve seen such things even in simple matters like learning about American money in school (counting nickels, dimes, quarters, etc) while living in China. The kids were never taught monetary lessons according to the money of the actual country they lived in (except they learned it at home). I always thought it extremely strange and culturally insensitive. All in all it’s not a big deal because TCKs see so many different currencies anyway! But still strange 🙂

  3. Kristi June 18, 2017

    I just found this site a few weeks ago, and am excited about your books for the summer. I am still catching up in the reading in the Road to Coorain, so am commenting on last week’s discussion. I appreciate the themes that you’ve brought out from the book – I agree that so much of the environment and Ker’s experience as a child seems like a completely different world – but yet also so many things to relate to. We recently moved to South Sudan, and in the city it is dusty, hot, and devoid of green. So I take comfort from the beauty that Ker finds in the dry expanse of the plains. It is all a matter of perspective!

    It is poignant to see the suffering of her family during the drought – particularly the way her father gets more depressed and her mother does not know how to understand or encourage him. I think this highlights the need for other people around us and other voices to speak into our lives. Wise counsel can help us discern whether we are suffering as ‘part of the call’ or we need to make a change, as you alluded to in the first section. I know in my own marriage there have been times I have been reminded that we are not sufficient just the two of us to understand each other or meet each other’s needs. We need other people! And we definitely need God! I wonder if Jill’s parents (or father?) could have weathered the storm if they were not so isolated or if they had a faith that they shared? I know that doesn’t have an answer, but a question to throw out there.

    Thanks again – I look forward to next week!

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