This is an Australian classic and ranked highly in the ABC Book Club’s top 10 Aussie books. It’s a little sad, then, that it has taken an avid reader like me 35 years to get to this one despite growing up in a house that always had a copy of the shelves (oops, did I just give away my age?). On a side note, there is still one book from the top ten list I’m yet to read, how about you?
In the end I discovered this via audio books, it was available immediately and I wanted something right away. I’m glad I did, and as I said in my previous post on audio books, I loved listening to the mellow tones of the older male narrator. It was like sitting with Pa listening to stories, his stories being no less fascinating than A. B. Facey’s.
This is a tale of an ordinary man living through some extraordinary times including two world wars and the great depression. It’s written exactly as a man of his generation would speak it, nothing fancy just plain, clear language. Having said that there were a couple of times where a little glossing over the detail would have been appreciated, he was VERY specific!! One such example was the description of a well on a rural property Facey was living on. By the end of the lengthy passage I knew the depth and diameter of the well, the length of the rope that was lowered (and something about counter weights that I didn’t quite get), the diameter and volume of the buckets used to bring up the water in and how many times the bucket would need to be filled to get the water required. It kind of reminded me of the level of detail about trains and railway gauges offered up in The Railway Man (and probably wasn’t helped by the fact that I had just finished that book).
The other thing I couldn’t quite get my head around was the title. Was it supposed to be ironic or not? In some ways A. B. Facey had shockingly bad luck. His mother was a complete piece of work, abandoning him very early in his life, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother, and then reappearing to reap whatever kind of financial reward she could. As a young boy/teenager he was forced into service on a number of farms where he was whipped, poorly treated and never paid – despite his ’employers’ promises of wages. He got lost and survived in the outback for several days without food or water. He was sent to Gallipoli and was badly injured. He had great difficulty finding work he could do after the war. His efforts at farming during the Great Depression with drought and plummeting wool, wheat and livestock prices fell over completely and he lost a son in World War II. All terrible experiences for one person to have to endure. On the other hand, those times were tough, terrible times for lots of people and if you look at things the other way you see he was lucky. Lucky to have a grandmother to care for and love him, lucky to learn the agricultural skills that would later see him landing on his feet time after time, lucky to come home from Gallipoli at all and lucky to get a war pension that could be depended upon during the tough depression years. He had four sons, who all went to war, he was lucky to have three come home. He was lucky to get land as a soldier settler and to marry a woman who shared the burdens of the hard times and the joys of the good. In the end I think the title is what it is and I’m probably over thinking it. I can’t imagine A. B. Facey putting such time and effort into discerning its deeper meaning.
A Fortunate Life deserves it’s place in the list of Aussie books. It’s a unique first hand account of a part of history that made Australia what it is today. This was when our nation was forged together as a distinct people with an identity to defend and freedoms to protect. Whether that identity is as relevant today is a discussion for another time. So if this little piece of Australian literature has been staring at you from your to-read list, it’s time to give it a go…. maybe on audio book.