An Alice Girl by Tanya Heaslip

‘Who will I be, if I’m not here, on this land, under these skies?’

This is Tanya Heaslip’s memoir of childhood, about growing up in Australia’s remote outback during the 1960s and 1970s. Tanya was the eldest of Grant and Janice Heaslip’s four children, and with her siblings M’Lis, Brett and Benny, grew up on remote cattle stations in the Northern Territory. This memoir ends when Tanya went to boarding school aged 12.

The Heaslips were hardworking pioneers who developed Bond Springs Station in an environment where water is scarce, the temperature can exceed 45 degrees Celsius in summer, and everything from visiting neighbours to obtaining supplies requires considerable travel.

The children grew up with schooling provided by governesses and through The School of the Air. Tanya loved her lessons (except for maths) and schooling was often fitted around the demands of the cattle station. Janice ran the household, keeping family and stockmen fed, while Grant managed the property.

For me, as a city dweller who needs green spaces and access to rivers and the ocean, living in Australia’s hot interior is almost unimaginable. I admire those who do and enjoyed reading Tanya’s memories of growing up. The children grew up together, playing, looking out for each other, and helping their father with the cattle droving and mustering.

I learned more about The School of the Air, and of Adelaide Miethke’s role in its establishment. I read about the challenges involved in remote learning and the shyness of children who rarely saw anyone outside their own family. I finished the book full of admiration for Janice and Grant Heaslip, and keen to find out what happened next in Tanya’s life.

‘I will go away and live in the other places I’ve read about in my beloved books. I will do exciting things. Then, one day, I will write about this life and the land, so it’s always with me forever.’

Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith