Road From Coorain

The Road From Coorain - Jill Ker Conway This is the memoir of a woman who grew up on an Australian sheep farm and would go on to become the first woman president of Smith College. I started this book expecting to read a story about the Australian outback and got that--and a lot more. Yes, the picture of growing up on a isolated sheep "station" in the forties was certainly interesting. Conway starts with the landscape, giving a picture of the flat and vast vistas, the endless periodic droughts in the arid, ecologically fragile land and how it and the very masculine, stoic "Bush ethos" shapes you. But above all this is an intellectual, as well as emotional, memoir. Growing up with her parents and two older brothers she was so isolated she couldn't remember seeing another female child until she was seven years old and had no playmates her own age. Her memoir was a story of continually expanding intellectual and social horizons. First when she moved to Sydney to enroll in a girl's school at eleven, then as a student at Sydney University in the fifties. She described beautifully how her experiences changed her life and thinking. From what it was like to first encounter writers such as Marx, Samuel Butler, James Joyce, Jung, T.S. Eliot, to the shock of finding herself rejected for a civil service position despite being at the top of her class--solely because she was a woman. The writers who inspired and challenged my thinking were different, but I could identify with her intoxication upon encountering a larger world of ideas, and appreciated how she began to ponder how being a woman and an Australian had shaped her and history.