BLIND SCHOOL. Red door….Why I had been placed at such a school became even more of a puzzle as the strict rules of the prison-style institution closed in on me like the slamming of a cell door. Rules that made no sense. They would try to change me, to make me someone I clearly wasn’t. But as each rule was laid down, the spark inside me grew even brighter.
Janet Shaw was not born blind. Adopted at brith, it was not until she was thirteen months old that she was diagnosed with a inherited condition – a malignant cancer called retinoblastoma. She had one eye removed and the other was damaged by the radiotherapy which saved her life against the odds. After that she endured a lifetime of operations and limited vision, but never considered herself as either blind nor less able. It was not until she was thirty-three years old that she lost all vision and made the difficult decision to have her remaining eye removed.
Beyond the Red Door is Janet Shaw’s inspiring story. Despite the difficulties of living with limited vision and with ongoing pain in her ‘good’ eye, she refused to be limited in what she could achieve. She travelled, had a career and, in her thirties, became a champion disabled cyclist.
The book also reveals her struggle for identity and to form a relationship with her birth parents. With a strong and stable family life with her adoptive family, it was not until she was grown that Shaw made the decision to try to find her birth parents. When she did finally meet her birth mother, she had to face a painful rejection. Meeting her birth father, however, was more rewarding, although it took several years for their relationship to develop. Shaw’s birth father is a high-profile media personality (whose name is revealed in the book) who did not know of her existence until she made contact. The pair had to work through difficult circumstances to forge a relationship.
Janet Shaw’s story is intensely personal and honest. It has incredible lows but also great highs. It is the story of an extraordinary person striving to be the best she can be. No one who reads this book will doubt that she has succeeded.
Janet Shaw will be competing in the Athens 2004 Paralympics. Her fighting spirit is sure to stand her in good stead for this challenge.
The Red Door, by Janet Shaw
Allen & Unwin, 2004
Jeanie Crago grew up in the Western Australian outback. It was a life that some might describe as hard, but Crago doesn’t see it that way. She spent many years travelling and living in a caravan, going wherever her father, a fencing contractor, had work.
The family – Mum, Dad, Jeanie and her four brothers and sisters – lived a simple life. No television, no running water, often no electricity and school by correspondence, supervised by their mother or an occasional untrained nanny. While lacking the comforts that many Aussies take for granted, the children grew up in an envitronment where they were free to explore, to discover their country and themselves.
In A Look Over the Edge, Crago shares her experiences from childhood up to her years as a young adult working a gold mining lease with her father and other family members. She shares the highs and lows of her life – including losing her brother Tom, when he was just thirteen – with an honesty and enthusiasm that is refreshing. For those who know Western Australia this book is a treat with opportunity for revisiting the sixties, seventies and eighties in this vast state. For those who don’t know it, it is enlightening, and may awaken the travel bug.
Likely to appeal to those with a love of autobiography.
A Look Over the edge, by Jeanie Crago
Hesperian Press, 2001
Available from the author at her website, Aussie Outback Books
Roberta Sykes is one of Australia’s best-known black activists. The story of her life’s journey was first presented in Snake Cradle in 1997, and followed by Snake Dancing (1998) and Snake Circle (2000). Snake Dreaming brings together these three books in one complete volume.
In Snake Cradle we meet Sykes, growing up in Northern Queensland in the 1940s, the daughter of a white mother and an unknown father. Sykes grows up aware that her dark skin marks her as different than other children, an awareness that is proven correct by many of the events she recalls. Probably the major formative event is a harrowing and horrific rape when Sykes is a teenager living away from home. Snake Cradle was the winner of the Age Book of the Year award and Nita Kibble prize.
In the second book, Snake Dancing, Syke’s experiences lead her into the political arena. Sykes works to fight for justice and equality for all black people, among other things playing a formative role in the setting up of the Tent Embassy outside Parliament House, and becoming the first Aboriginal columnist for Nation Review.
In the third and final book, Snake Circle, Sykes embarks on a more personal journey. She fights for, and wins, funding to attend Harvard University, where she overcomes personal doubts, feelings of isolation, and other obstacles, to complete a Doctorate. At the same time, she works to ensure that this is not a one off achievement for herself, but an ongoing opportunity for others.
Snake Dreaming is an incredible journey. Readers are swept into the struggles, the highs and the lows, learning not just about Sykes, but about the struggles of Australia’s black community. An essential read for every Australian.
Snake Dreaming: Autobiography of a Black Woman, by Roberta Sykes
Allen &Unwin, 2001.