I admit to feeling wary when I first saw this book. Few people have truly interesting lives; of those, fewer still are able to write with skill and insight. Was An Outback Life another of those predictable memoirs flung into an already saturated market? I had my suspicions. Happily though, after a self-conscious start, Mary Groves proves otherwise.
An Outback Life is a glimpse of a world that’s quickly disappearing. In fact, during the forty years Groves lived and worked in the Northern Territory, things changed dramatically: men on horses were replaced by helicopters and vehicles with bionic arms; Aboriginal policy shifted both for better and for worse; those with fortitude turned a rough living scraped out of the red dust into comfortable fortunes.
While all of this is interesting, what’s most engaging is how the outback changed Groves. From a rebellious youngster to a steadfast bride, she became the centre of life on the station. Though she never finished school, Groves took on roles as teacher, cook, nurse, businesswoman, and political advocate, retaining her sense of humour through it all. She became connected with the land in spiritual ways too, always respectful of its majesty and its mystery.
While An Outback Life is filled with a lifetime of anecdotes, there’s something reticent in Groves’ approach. I get the sense she’s only scratched the surface of her experience. And this isn’t bad—after the success of this debut, there’s the hope she’ll write more.
An Outback Life
Allen & Unwin
Review first published in The Courier-Mail in 2011.