Reviewed by Gail McDonald
This biographical novel by Antony Jeffrey centres mainly on the story of his mother who is described as a brave and sensitive woman who never stopped caring for the people she loved. It is a story of love, loss and family and is the first novel written by Antony.
He previously recorded more than a hundred interviews with artists and other creative people many of which were included in his book Many Faces of Inspiration written in 2011. In 2008, he was awarded an AM for his services to the arts.
The Poinciana Tree is told in two parts – firstly through the story of his mother Aimee, from her time as a lonely child growing up on the West Australian Goldfields who then, following her mother’s death, moved to Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and eventually to Brisbane; and secondly, through the story of her eldest son Antony.
Aimee is portrayed as a capable and competent woman who following her education in a boarding school in Melbourne became a nurse in the 1930s. Aimee made friends easily and, on a ship, travelling to Brisbane to see her brother Owen who was hospitalised with complications from diabetes, she made a lifelong friend who would have a great deal of influence on her life.
In 1935, Aimee married the brother of one of the women on the ship and together they had two children Antony and David.
During World War II, following concerns about Australia’s safety, Alan sent Aimee and the children “away to the country” to Talbragar near Coolah in New South Wales. The children thrived in the country and Aimee gained a personal strength of purpose.
Alan’s family made up for the family life that she had missed as a child. The strength of that bond supported her following the premature death of her husband Alan. She was steadfastly determined to maintain as much of the lifestyle that the family achieved during her marriage to Alan as she could – including maintaining the holiday house Breffney at the Gold Coast – by sewing for meagre payment.
Aimee eventually remarried Steve King, a widower who was able to offer her comfort and protection which she missed in her years as a sole mother. Following their marriage, they moved into a house overlooking the Brisbane River at Indooroopilly.
Aimee eventually suffered from dementia and died at the age of ninety-five leaving ten grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.
The story of Antony is woven throughout the book with tales of his and his brother’s exploits as young children. Antony and David did not appear close and this was exacerbated when David, who did not enjoy schooling, was sent out to work on a cattle station in his mid-teens. Antony remained and studied accountancy eventually working in Sydney after completing National Service when he was eighteen.
Antony’s real love was of classical music and the arts which he was exposed to initially by Gwenda Lloyd – his mother’s former teacher.
Throughout the book, the author paints a delightful picture of the Brisbane he grew up in. The title of the book is based on the poinciana tree that Alan had grown from a seed pod planted in the garden of a house in Clayfield. He saw it as a symbol of their life in Brisbane which he felt could flourish when the war was over.
The Poinciana Tree
by Antony Jeffrey
ISBN 978 192244 996 2