I can say unreservedly that this is one of the most powerful memoirs I have read in recent years and for young adults this is a book worth promoting heavily.
Archie’s life story is at times harrowing and confronting but also uplifting and inspirational. Taken away from his family at the age of 2, he was placed in foster care – initially, in a very distressing situation – but later in a family home with foster-parents who were both kind and loving. But an unexpected letter received in his teens, alerted Archie to his lost family and his search for his own people began. As it was, and has been, for many First Australians the impact of the Stolen Generation was devastating with long-term effects still being felt, Archie’s struggle to re-connect with his natural family and his culture was a roller-coaster of emotions, highlights and low periods.
Archie does not hold back on his battles with alcohol and the often tragic circumstances that punctuated his life as he endeavoured to find his place within his culture. His recollections of his life with his much-loved, and also highly acclaimed, wife Ruby Hunter are poignant and utterly heart-rending as both fought their own war against booze and depression.
His determination to rise above the often sordid events of his life was helped and accelerated by his music, something which had always sustained and nourished his spirit. As this confidence in his music grew so did his mission to awaken all Australians to the issues and tragedies of his people and culture. This career has seen Archie rise to the heights of respect not only within the industry but across the nation as more and more people develop an understanding of and empathy for our First Australians.
Archie’s ongoing goal to promote healing for his people and his personal resilience and inner strength is truly admirable and this history, both the personal and our nation’s past, is vital for all our young people at a time when society is faced with much unrest, uncertainty and division.
I cannot recommend this memoir highly enough – I was completely gripped by it (and read way past my bedtime as I was so engrossed with hit). I will certainly be promoting it actively to my young readers from Year 7 upwards.
Thank you Archie for sharing your life – the good, the bad and the ugly – with us all.
Seventeen year old Stella knows exactly how to help people – after all, she’s read self-help books all her life. Her friends and family often are the beneficiaries of the wealth of her accumulated wisdom. Best friends Clem, Zin and Lara regularly think she’s a little weird with her psycho-babble but affectionately embrace it. Her family – Dad, Mum and sister Taylor – are a little less enthusiastic and at times exasperated.
Stella has always known she’s adopted and that has never been a problem for her until, that is, a letter arrives from her birth mother and she discovers that over the past ten years there were others, carefully put away by her mum until she might be ready for them. The timing could not be worse. Dad’s gambling problem has driven down the family finances to such an extent that they must give up their house and move to Fairyland caravan park – literally the worst address in town, infamous for meth labs exploding and filled, it appears, with the most dubious of characters.
Rather than the vice-filled wasteland redolent with crime and the dregs of society that she has imagined, Stella slowly begins to discover that Fairyland is, in reality, a community and, more importantly, that not everyone needs her help – at least, not in the way she’s always pushed it onto people. The complicated chaos of her family life combined with keeping the secret of their new address from her friends and then the unravelling secrets about her origins as she attempts to get to know her ‘other’ family ensure a great narrative which explores the nuances of relationships and the shades of right or wrong that exist in any human situation. Stella realises that it is she who needs helping as much as anyone else and it is her Fairyland experience that provides it.
There is much humour in this novel along with the pathos and over-arching themes of compassion, respect and truth all of which make for compelling reading. Readers will find much upon which to reflect – addiction, domestic abuse, the definition of family, relationships, perceptions and stereotyping among others and while it is complex it is also highly engaging and very readable.
It’s a fantastic read which I ate up over two nights and one I will enjoy sharing with my students.
I highly recommend it for astute readers from around 13/14 years upwards.