Kimbofo of Reading Matters has declared that April is Australian Literature Month. What a great idea! Along with the usual commentary on the books I read, I will include information about their availability here in Virginia.
To begin this happy month of reading, I settled on an audiobook version of a very old-fashioned and much loved memoir by A.B. Facey called A Fortunate Life. Clearly this was not an ironic title, although someone abandoned by his mother, sent off to work (and be horsewhipped) at age 8, who was wounded at Gallipoli is generally not regarded as “lucky.” The book is assigned in primary and secondary schools and surely is meant to give kids a better perspective on their incredibly irritating parents.
He was born in 1894 and the story begins when his father dies in Western Australia and his mother leaves her younger children with her mother in Victoria. Albert, 2-3 years old when he was left with Grandma, recounts in detail their lives over the years. Grandma makes her way to Western Australia to the farm of her other daughter. And when I say “in detail” I mean we hear the names of those who helped them along the way, the meals that were eaten, who washed the dishes, and the events of each day as if we were reading a diary. Albert never went to school and learned to read and write on his own as a teenager.
By the time Albert was 8 he was sent out to work on farms; the first place he went was a disaster as he was mistreated, not paid, and held against his will. He describes the various other farms where he worked and none were ever so bad as his first experience. His stories of life on the farms, later on a cattle drive, and as a professional boxer are great fun to listen to; he has a light, unsentimental touch with much humor in evidence.
There are few evil characters and even his mother, who abandoned him as a baby, refused to allow him to be adopted by a couple who would have given him a good life, and tried to extract his savings when she insisted he come to see her, still gets respect. When he was called a son-of-a-bitch by a bully, he insisted the man take back the slur upon his mother. What??
While he was in Gallipoli, he received a “home comfort” package sent to soldiers by civilians who lived in their home regions. His pair of socks had a note wishing good luck to him and was signed by Evelyn Gibson. After he was wounded, he was sent home and told that he could only do light work and even work on the trams in Perth had an ill effect on his health. He did meet Evelyn by chance and they married and lived together for almost 60 years. The two owned and ran various farms, raising fowl, pigs, sheep, and of course we hear how each of those enterprises began and ended.
His message is that if you work hard, don’t drink, and use your intelligence, you will succeed handsomely. Only on one subject does he express a view that is at odds with this rosy outlook:
My experience in the First World War and now the Second World War changed my outlook on things. It’s hard to believe that there is a God. I feel that the Bible is a book that was written by man, not for the good of man, but for the purpose of preying on a person’s conscience and to confuse him. Anyone who has taken part in a fierce bayonet charge, and I have, and has managed to retain his proper senses, must doubt the truth of the Bible and the powers of God if one exists. And considering the many hundreds of different religions there are in this world of ours and that fact that many religions have caused terrible wars and hatreds throughout the world and the many religions that have horded terrific wealth and property while people inside and outside the religion are starving, it’s difficult to remain a believer. No sir, there is no God. It is only a myth.
After I finished the book, I realized with a start that it was first published in 1981. The 60s and 70s as I know them do not exist in this book, but I’m glad that Albert did not know about those decades. Albert’s book is a treasure.
A Fortunate Life is available at the UVa library, in the kindle version, from sellers through Amazon, and audiobook through iTunes.
A.B. Facey, A Fortunate Life, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia, Penguin Books, 1981, 326 pages. I listened to the Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd. edition, through iTunes.