I first read this autobiography in high school, as part of the curriculum. I remember groaning inwardly, thinking “how boring”, dreading the 400 pages of tedious history. However I was soon drawn into the extraordinary life story of a boy who was orphaned as a toddler, brought up in abject poverty by his grandmother until he was 8 years old, and then sent off to back-breaking farm labour in the harsh Australian bush. He never got to attend school, never had a chance to play with toys or be with friends, owned nothing, not even a pair of shoes. Apart from being made to work, he had to sleep in a barn, was given hardly any food and was also beaten cruelly. He was forced to grow up very fast and look after himself. As a kid in the 1980’s, the contrast to my own childhood was huge. Albert Facey’s trials and adventures kept me enthralled during that English assignment. The descriptions of the landings at Gallipoli and his later life experiences were also very moving, and by the end of the book I had laughed and cried. The book persisted in my memory into adulthood, as only a handful of very special books do.
Reading it again many years later, I was struck by Albert Facey’s simple writing style. The chapters are short, each one a recollection, a yarn being told to his children and grandchildren. Through these memories we not only get a vivid glimpse of an amazing time in Australia’s history, but an insight into the character of a quintessential “Aussie Battler”. The things this man lived through! Albert Facey endured hardship without complaint, served courageously in the war, struggled through the Depression, and lost loved ones to tragedy. Yet he remained optimistic, and looked back on his life at the age of 87 with a sense that he had been fortunate. One day I’d like to read this book to my own kids, especially if they ever complain that their life is hard! I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in what early life was like in Australia, and to anyone who enjoys an inspirational story.
The Australian Literature Review