Bad Behaviour: A Memoir of Bullying and Boarding School, by Rebecca Starford

It’s late, just before lights-out, and we’re all tucked up in bed. My book is facedown in my lap, untouched. It’s too cold to read; it is the dead of winter, my breath hangs like mist in front of my face. A few beds down, Ronnie is sniping across the aisle at Kendall – ‘Hey KFC. Albino pubes. Have you wet yourself tonight?’ – and Portia, in the bed beside her, laughs.

A boarding school in the bush, where students can learn resilience and confidence, and gain physical fitness and endurance, sounds like a wonderful thing. But when the level of supervision is low, and bullying behaviour is largely unchecked, it can be a recipe for disaster.

Rebecca Starford spent a year in such a boarding school when she was fourteen. At times one of the bullies, at others a victim, the decisions she made and the things she endured and witnessed, shaped the woman she became. In Bad Behaviour she presents an honest memoir of that time and of her years beyond boarding school as she struggled to reconcile both her time at boarding school, and the self she had become, including coming to terms with her sexuality.

Bad Behaviour: A Memoir of Bullying and Boarding School is, from the opening pages, confronting, but it is also a story of triumph, with happier moments and a level of honesty and openness which is utterly readable. Although billed as a memoir for adults, it would also be suitable for older teens.

Gripping, moving and extraordinary honest.


Bad Behaviour: A Memoir of Bullying and Boarding School

Bad Behaviour: A Memoir of Bullying and Boarding School, by Rebecca Starford
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781743319574

The Tunnel, by Dennis McIntosh

‘Where have you been working…’ He glanced down his clipboard for my name. ‘Dennis?’ He looked up.
‘I’ve been shearing down the Board of Works farm out of Werribee.’ I didn’t tell him this job was my get-out plan from shearing.
‘Worked underground before?’
He was taken aback. ‘Never?’
‘No, never.’

Twenty-seven years old, a recovering alcoholic, and with a faltering marriage, Dennis McIntosh goes to work on an underground construction site in Melbourne’s west. He hates confined spaces, so working underground constructing sewer pipes probably isn’t his ideal job, but he knows he needs to stick at it. And he does, for seven long years, before resurfacing a changed man.

The Tunnel is an honest and open account of one man’s working life and the way he uses it to confront his past and his perceived failings. McIntosh enters the tunnels poorly educated and with not a lot going for him, but decides in his time underground that it is time to take control of his life, get an education and achieve the things he wants to achieve.

A Penguin Special, The Tunnel is a quick read, exploring the role of unions as well as issues of education and self-determination.

A gritty, powerful read.


The Tunnel, by Dennis McIntosh
Penguin Books, 2014
ISBN 9780143572220

Available from good bookstores and online.

The Silver Moon, by Bryce Courtenay

In the end, if someone says, “Here lies Bryce Courtenay, a storyteller,” my life will have been worthwhile.

When he died in 2012, author Bryce Courtenay left a huge hole in the literary landscape. He had written 21 books in 23 years, books which were loved by Australians and around the world, selling millions of copies.

Now an unexpected tribute, in the form of a final book, has been released. The Silver Moon: Reflections on Life, Death and Writing is, as the title suggests, a collection of writing and quotes from Courtenay. Pieces written in the final months of his life are interspersed with  quotes from television  and press interviews in which he shares his views on life in general and on writing more specifically.

The new pieces include a gorgeous piece about a childhood encounter with a giraffe drinking at a favourite waterhole, and pieces exploring his feelings about his impending death. The whole is gentle, uplifting, and thought provoking, likely to inspire writers and to move Courtenay’s loyal fans.



The Silver Moon: Reflections on Life, Death and Writing

The Silver Moon: Reflections on Life, Death and Writing, by Bryce Courtenay
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9780670078264

Available from good bookstores and online.

I, Migrant, by Sami Shah

Afterwards, standing in front of my smashed car, the attending policeman told me, ‘You should have hit the fakking thing. You shoulda just hit the fakking thing.’ But all I could think was, ‘No I couldn’t. I’m an immigrant and I don’t think it would look very good if I’d killed your national emblem.’ It seemed like the sort of thing that might come up in my citizenship exam later.

As a child, Sami Shah didn’t picture a future for himself which involved relocating to rural Australia, nor did he see himself as a stand up comedian. But after growing up in Karachi and studying in the United States, he gradually found that Pakistan was not the place he wanted to raise his daughter. After saving and planning for three years, he and his wife and child found themselves living in Northam, a town they’d never even heard of, and trying to make a go of life as migrants.

I, Migrant: A Comedian’s Journey from Karachi to the Outback does much more than trace Shah’s journey to Australia. From his childhood, through to his years living in the United States – including how it was to be a Pakistani Muslim in the US after 9/11 – and his adult life back in Pakistan, the reader is privy to his life, his motivations, and his eyes and lows. We also see his development as a comedian – both in Pakistan, and as he re-establishes himself in Australia. Significantly, we get an insider’s view of life in Pakistan, and the life of a migrant in Australia.

Shah’s voice is humorous, but it is also honest and very insightful, so that readers will laugh, cry, squirm uncomfortably and applaud. Mostly, though, you’ll come to feel like you know Sami Shah – and feel so much richer for that friendship.



I, Migrant: A Comedian’s Journey from Karachi to the Outback, by Sami Shah
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9781743319345

Available from good bookstores and online.

Women of Spirit, by Anne Crawford

There must have been times in Tess Payne’s life in Victoria’s remote mountain country when she paused, did a double-take and wondered how she got there.

A comment by an acquaintance about Aussie women living as pioneering once did led to Anne Crawford researching and writing a book about such women. She set out to find – and speak to – women living in remote parts of Australia and working hard to make lives for themselves and their families.

From Tess Payne, a city woman, who moved bush to support her husband’s dream, to Lee-Anne Bright who grew up on a remote property and then built a career governessing, and Emmie Wehr who raised her daughters single-handedly while also forging a career as a horse trainer, Women of Spirit is a testament to women who have endured personal trials, illnesses, and the extremes of Australia’s climate and landscape to do what they do. Crawford tells their stories with a sensitive touch, weaving the stories so that readers have an opportunity to know what shapes each woman, as well as what it is she has achieved.

An inspiring read.


Women of Spirit, by Anne Crawford
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9781743317860

Available from good bookstores and online.

Small Bamboo, by Tracy Vo

I was on a plane from Sydney to Perth to see my parents, but it was much more than just a flight west. It would eventually take me back more than thirty years, all the way back to Vietnam, back to a time when my parents were young and brave and desperate.
Desperate enough to get on a leaky boat.

In 2012 a break from her Sydney-based media career to visit her parents made Tracy Vo realise how homesick she was. It was time to move home to Perth. Ultimately, this decision took her much further, on a journey of discovery into her parents’ past. Thirty four years earlier, they had fled post-war Vietnam in a leaky boat, making a new life in Australia, where Tracy and her b=older brother Trevor were born and grew up.

Small Bamboo is a captivating account of the Vo family’s life in Vietnam prior to and during the Vietnam war, their subsequent escape and journey to Australia, and their lives adapting to this new country. Vo also shares her own experiences as the child of refugee parents, and charts her career to date as a television and radio journalist.

Readers will be entertained and intrigued by this glimpse into one family’s lives, and also witness to the way that hard work and determination can overcome adversity and lead to success.


Small Bamboo, by Tracy Vo
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9781743316153

Available from good bookstores or online.

From the Feet Up, by Tanya Saad

‘I’m sorry, I’m on my way home from work and it’s pouring with rain. Can you say that again?’
“I can call you back later?’ Dr Becker, the Head Geneticist at the Hereditary Cancer Clinic, said.
‘No, no. It’s fine,’ I replied, eager to know what I’d just heard about a cancer gene was correct.
‘Your family has a hereditary gene fault that increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer,’ Dr Becker repeated. ‘We’ve tested your dad and he’s a carrier of the gene.’

Tanya Saad hadn’t heard of the BRCA 1 gene until a family study revealed that her father was a carrier, and that many female relatives had died prematurely from breast or cervical cancer. When tests revealed that she too had the gene, her life changed irrevocably. Decisions had to be made about how to confront this news – whether to have difficult preventative surgery, or to rely on regular testing t pick up early signs of cancer, if she should develop it. The fact that one of her two sisters also tested positive added an extra challenge. As she navigated her way through these challenges, Tanya also revisited her childhood and her heritage, as well as reassessing her future.

From The Feet Up is an honest, personal account of one woman’s journey through a complex health issue. Blending the exploration of her experience with BRCA1, including the decision to have a preventative mastectomy with a memoir of her experiences as a Lebanese child growing up in a country town, her sporting career and her family life, makes for a complex and rich story.

An intriguing memoir.


From The Feet Up , by Tanya Saad
Harlequin Mira, 2014
ISBN 9781743566770

Available from good bookstores or online.

Heart of Stone, by Michael Chamberlain

It was obvious to us, and our fellow campers, that Azaria had been taken by a dingo. Aboriginal trackers confirmed this, as did the finding of the Coroner Denis Barritt at the inquest. How then did my wife Lindy come to be convicted of murder and to be sentenced to life imprisonment at a trial in Darwin two years later? And why did it take another six years for that verdict to be quashed by a Federal Royal Commission and a Federal Appeals Court?

Heart of Stone: Justice for Azaria

As the author says in his preface, few adult Australians would not have heard of the Azaria Chamberlain case. In August 1980, nine week old Azaria disappeared from the tent where she slept at Ayers Rock (now known by its traditional name, Uluru). Azaria’s mother, Lindy, saw a dingo near the tent before discovering her absence and campers, trackers and searchers all saw evidence of dingo footprints and drag marks. Yet Lindy Chamberlain was eventually charged, found guilty and imprisoned for the alleged murder of her daughter, and Michael Chamberlain, her husband, was found guilty of being an accessory to this fact. The evidence used to convict them was both flimsy and flawed, seemingly based more on people’s liking of dingoes and misunderstanding of the Chamberlain’s Seventh Day Adventist religion, than on any scientific fact. Misreporting and manipulation by the media aided the swell of public opinion against the Chamberlains, and mishandling by investigators and the legal system meant that this was a case which even 32 years later is still both raw and incomplete.

In Heart of Stone Michael Chamberlain shares his heartbreaking and courageous journey from proud new father, to grieving father, to victim and on to a strong campaigner for justice. He gives an intimate insight into his life and that of his family and supporters through the troubled years since Azaria’s death, and explains both how and why he sought – and continues to seek – justice.

It is doubtful that any other legal case has ever or will ever, arouse as much public interest and speculation as this case did and Heart of Stone provides readers with a chance to explore the case intimately, as well as to question how and why the Chamberlain family became victims of a terrible miscarriage of justice as well as of a powerful groundswell of public judgement. For those who remember the case and perhaps formed their own judgements at the time, Heart of Stone may also cause a rethink.

Heart of Stone: Justice for Azaria , by Michael Chamberlain
New Holland, 2012
ISBN 9781742572895

Avaialble from good bookstores or online

A Youth Not Wasted, by Ian Parkes

How can mere red dirt and stones and scrubby trees and shrubs and rises and fall sin the land and haze and a vast blue sky be so potent? Such was its power, even in intense heat, even at night, sometimes, especially at night, the landscape seized you.

A Youth Not Wasted: A Memoir

Ian Parkes grew up listening to – and loving – his grandfather’s stories about the bush, so when it came time for him to enter the workforce he was keen to experience life in the outback for himself. From his first job on a remote property he fell in love with the land, forging a lifelong connection with the love that continued long after he settled back in the city to pursue a career in advertising.

A Youth Not Wasted recounts Parkes’ time working on rural properties in the 1950s, from his working alone fencing and mustering, to living alongside fellow workers, days at the races and more. Painting a picture of a time which may have passed, in a setting which in some cases remains unchanged, A Youth Not Wasted will appeal both to those who may have had similar experiences as well as those who may just be intrigued by the difference to their own experiences.

An absorbing memoir.

A Youth Not Wasted, by Ian Parkes
Fourth Estate, an imprint of Harper Collins, 2012
ISBN 9780732295349

Available from good bookstores or online.

Love & Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food, by Charlotte Wood

I began really learning to cook in my mid-twenties, at about the same time as I began really learning to write. I have only recently wondered if there is a link between these two things, other than the circumstances in which I found myself: an idle university student in possession of time for dawdling, some vague creative urges and new friends who inspired me with their own creativity and skill with a pen or a frying pan.

Charlotte Wood’s fiction offerings, including Animal People (2011) and The Children (2007) have attracted critical acclaim, but she is also a successful food writer, with her own blog and numerous magazine features including Gourmet Traveller and Good Weekend. In Love and Hunger Wood shares her love of food in an offering which is part memoir, part recipe book, exploring the shared nature of cooking and eating. With section focussing on learning to cook, practical tips for cooking, philosophical observations about food, and comfort cooking. There are over 75 recipes and, most importantly, a real celebration of the communal, loving nature of food and cooking.

Even for those who are not avid cooks, this is a book which makes the reader want to spend time in the kitchen, creating and sharing and simply enjoying the pleasures of good food. At the same time, the quality of the writing is deeply satisfying, bringing together Woods’ two much-loved art forms in a satisfying whole.

Love and Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food

Love and Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food, by Charlotte Wood
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781742377766

This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond.