The Road From Coorain

The Road From Coorain

Book - 1990
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In a memoir that pierces and delights us, Jill Ker Conway tells the story of her astonishing journey into adulthood--a journey that would ultimately span immense distances and encompass worlds, ideas, and ways of life that seem a century apart.

She 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, and who, upon her husband's sudden death when Jill was ten, began to slide--bereft of the partnership of work and love that had so utterly fulfilled her--into depression and dependency.

We see Jill, staggered by the loss of her father, catapulted to what seemed another planet--the suburban Sydney of the 1950s and its crowded, noisy, cliquish school life. Then the heady excitement of the University, but with it a yet more demanding course of lessons--Jill embracing new ideas, new possibilities, while at the same time trying to be mother to her mother and resenting it, escaping into drink, pulling herself back, striking a balance. We see her slowly gaining strength, coming into her own emotionally and intellectually and beginning the joyous love affair that gave wings to her newfound self.

Worlds away from Coorain, in America, Jill Conway became a historian and the first woman president of Smith College. Her story of Coorain and the road from Coorain startles by its passion and evocative power, by its understanding of the ways in which a total, deep-rooted commitment to place--or to a dream--can at once liberate and imprison. It is a story of childhood as both Eden and anguish, and of growing up as a journey toward the difficult life of the free.
Publisher: New York : Vintage Books, 1990, c1989.
Edition: 1st Vintage Books ed.
ISBN: 9780679724360
Branch Call Number: BIO Conway, J. 1989
Characteristics: 238 p. ;,21 cm.


From Library Staff

The Road from Coorain, 2001-2002: Australia’s windswept outback is a character, itself, in this memoir of drought, hard work, and sheep. Since nearly all of the young men who would usually work on sheep farms were off fighting World War II, young Jill is pressed into service on her family’s 30,00... Read More »

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Jan 13, 2018

Absolutely beautiful book, although very sad in places. An autobiography of Jill Ker Conway - the first 25 years of her life growing up in Australia. She later became the first female president of Smith College. The best biography I've read in years. She expresses her thoughts and feelings in exactly the right way for each age, and when she diverges from that she lets us know - i.e. "I didn't realize until much later that..." A fascinating account of life on a sheep station and the terrible costs of extended drought. I had read about the most recent Australian drought in the newspapers and seen the pictures, but it never really came home for me what that meant until I read about it from this family's perspective. There is also keen insight (Conway is a sociologist/historian) as to the Australian national character and what it meant to become a woman intellectual in the 1950s. I highly, highly recommend this book.

Aug 28, 2016

I just finished this book and was engrossed by it! Her descriptions of growing up on the Australian bush are fascinating and reminded me of Sandra Day O'Connor's memoir.

The authors focuses a great deal on her relationship with her mother and her desire for independence a place where this is not encouraged. This clearly leads her to her new academic calling focusing on women and new independence.

Apr 28, 2015

A great writer can make any life into an exciting memoir and that is what has happened here. Conway is a fantastically gifted writer of history and she has applied her skills to her own life. The reader will get a highly enjoyable summary of recent Australian history as well as the author's thoughtful investigation of her own experience coming of age in Australia. There are several interesting threads running through the memoir: the settling of Australia's outback by European settlers and ranchers, Australia's subtle turning from Britain to America during the political and military wrenchings of WW2, Conway's struggle to be a dutiful daughter and yet create a life for herself, and Conway's struggle to prove herself in male dominated intellectual circles. The book is of that delightful genre, wherein we find The Secret Garden, The Little Princess and David Copperfield, that features the solitary child who is shaped by her early protective environment and the making of solitary discoveries in the world around her, and then later moves into a complex world where she is called upon to use all the skills her early life has taught her, even though that life is gone,

Nov 27, 2013

A well-written and self-revealing autobiography/memoir of an Australian women who was the first female president of Smith College. She reveals how growing up in the harsh outback (dust storms, water shortages, isolation, etc.) affected and informed her life. Read it and be inspired.


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