The Road from Coorain
William Heinemann Australia, $29.95 hb, 238 pp, 0-85561-321-1
In September 1960, Jill Ker, aged twenty-six, left Australia for good. She was off to study history at Harvard and, as it turned out, to make a career as a high-flying academic administrator in the States. The ties she was breaking were those that bound her to her widowed mother and, above all, to Coorain, the thirty-thousand-acre property her father had acquired in 1929 as a soldier settler and where she had spent the first eleven years of her life. The Road from Coorain is her account – all the more moving for being carefully neutral in tone – of how those ties were formed as she grew up and how she reached her decision to break them.
Bill Ker, her father, was the classic World War I digger. Raised on a sheep station in South Australia, he was tall and wiry, humorous and gregarious. A good horseman and a crack shot, he enlisted eagerly in 1914, only to find, like other survivors, that ‘what began as an adventure ended in horror too profound for speech’. He was sent home after Passchendaele and ever after relived the war in the trenches in his nightmares.