The Road from Coorain (Australia)

Book #18

The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway

I spent six weeks in Australia and saw a small fraction of the country. Visiting Australia and trying to hit all the major highlights is like trying to visit New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Austin and the Grand Canyon in just over a month. There is so much ground to cover. From the beginning of this project, I knew I wanted to read an Australian book that shared a sense of place.

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I chose Jill Ker Conway’s memoir to get a glimpse of what growing up in the Australian bush was like, along with her early path to becoming an academic and eventually the first female president of Smith College. The majority of the book focuses on her years leading up to graduate school and is an intimate look at her family life - through loss, wins and struggles.

At an early age, she was her father’s right-hand girl on their sheep farm. And perhaps his last confidant before an early end to his life. She learned most things the hard way. For anyone who has felt like they didn’t fit in at school, at work, or in their family - Conway reassures us all that we’re not alone.

While I liked this book, I didn’t love it. Her writing style was occasionally too academic and I could have used a dictionary by my side. I also felt like the emotion she was conveying was still an arms length away even through really difficult life experiences.

After reading the book, I did more research on Conway and came across this compilation of interviews from Terry Gross and Conway over the years. Conway passed away in June of 2018 and there are many articles and tributes to her across the internet. Reading the excerpts from the NPR interviews, I felt more connected to Conway as a person. The Road from Coorain was the first of her three memoirs and I’m assuming she developed as a writer and storyteller throughout the course of her work. She’s clearly an inspiration and worth any amount of time to learn about her life and accomplishments.