Reviewed by E.B. Heath
This is the Great Australian Classic Adapted For Younger Readers
There are so many reasons why this young readers’ edition of A. B. Facey’s, autobiography A Fortunate Life, should be reinstated on school reading lists. Historical facts and figures are useful to a point, but fall short of illustrating how lives were shaped by government policies, local and global. Albert Barnett Facey’s autobiography brings his era alive; it also illustrates how strength of character, honesty, a determination to be positive not bitter, and a spirit of gratitude can indeed result in A Fortunate Life.
Albert was born in 1894, before unemployment benefits were introduced, the hardship he endured in his early years will be a revelation for children today. His father left Victoria for the gold fields of Western Australia, dying two years later, when Albert was four years old. Soon after his mother also left for Western Australia, abandoning five young children to their grandparents’ care. His grandmother was kind and did her best, nevertheless, Albert receive no schooling, being sent away to work long hours from the age of eight. He nearly died when one drunken employer whipped him. Others took advantage and didn’t pay him as promised. And some were kind. Although, his situation is often dire, there are some really funny stories here; the ‘snake bite’ and the mysteriously disappearing apples will certainly amuse young readers. Through the thick and thin of his early years Albert persevered, kept positive and even saved a little money, so as he turned fourteen he was able to leave Victoria to be with his mother in Perth. Readers, young and old, will find this young boy’s maturity and courage inspirational.
Now, as a teenager, he starts a new chapter of his life in Western Australia, with his mother and stepfather. It is not long before it becomes clear he is not in a loving home, where he is appreciated, beyond paying £1 rent each week. So, once again he sets off on his own. At first he joins a droving team and for the first time meets Indigenous Australians, who are friendly and kind, one of their number rescues him when he becomes lost in a storm. A nerve-wracking adventure! Later he works on the railway lines, boxes in a fair, and then there was Gallipoli.
Albert was twenty-one when he left Australia. His account of fighting at Gallipoli is told in matter-of-fact plain prose, and yet so very moving. He brings into sharp focus the extent of suffering, the strength of mind, and the pure courage it took to endure trench warfare. Time and again his life is spared as his mates die. Two of his brothers, Roy and Joseph, die.
… I was told that Roy had been killed. … I helped to bury Roy and fifteen of our mates. We put them in a grave on the side of a clearing we called Shell Green. Roy was in pieces when they found him – it was terrible.
But there was some relief from the sheer hell of the situation. At some point the soldiers receive packages from home, knitted items from volunteers wanting to show their support. Albert’s parcel, knitted socks, is from Evelyn Gibson, who writes a kind letter wishing the soldier who opens her gift God’s speed and good health.
Badly injured and being told he has only two years to live, he returns to Australia. Miraculously, he meets Evelyn Gibson by chance when out with his friends, and some time later they marry. This is where his life takes a turn towards the ‘fortunate’. Evelyn was a wonderful wife and together they had seven children, and through hard work, some financial success. Albert lived into his eighties. Reading this autobiography it is hard not to think that Albert, despite all the deprivation in his young life, had been blessed. He certainly deserved it!
It was Evelyn who urged Albert to write his stories down, and later, his daughter Barbara asked him to send the hand-written manuscript to Fremantle Press, in the hope of having a few printed copies for the family. And the rest is history. The history of a remarkable man, who will be remembered as having a brave heart, persevering and triumphing over extreme poverty.
This is an autobiography that should be read by young people today. Albert Facey, a man who taught himself to read and write, writes it, and writes it well. So much so, that the printing error on the top of page 51, is hardly noticed. There is so much to learn on every page about how to live a successful life, no matter how the deficits pile up.
By A.B. Facey
ISBN: 9 781925 591446