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Friday, May 25, 2018

The Last of the Bonegilla Girls

Title:  The Last of the Bonegilla Girls
Author: Victoria Purman
Publisher: 23rd April 2018 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, womens fiction
My Rating: 4 crowns

For readers of The Woolgrower's Companion and The Three Miss Allens… Their friendship transcends nationality and background, but can it overcome the horrors of the past?
A post-Second World War story of strong female ties and family, secrets and lies, set in the multicultural Australia of the fifties. Can the Bonegilla girls defeat their past? Or will it come to claim them?
1954: When sixteen–year–old Hungarian Elizabeta arrives in Australia with her family, she is hoping to escape the hopelessness of life as a refugee in post–war Germany. Her first stop is the Bonegilla Migrant Camp on the banks of the Murray in rural Victoria, a temporary home for thousands of new arrivals, all looking for work and a better life. There, Elizabeta becomes firm friends with the feisty Greek Vasiliki; quiet Italian Iliana; and the adventurous Frances, the daughter of the camp's director.
In this vibrant and growing country, the Bonegilla girls rush together towards a life that seems full of promise, even as they cope with the legacy of war, the oppressive nature of family tradition and ever–present sorrow. So when a ghost from the past reaches out for Elizabeta and threatens to pull her back into the shadows, there is nothing that her friends wouldn't do to keep her safe.
But secrets have a way of making themselves known and lies have a way of changing everything they touch...
My Thoughts

‘They had been friends when they were young, when they were able to celebrate the freedoms of a new life in Australia, thrown together by the circumstance of being at Bonegilla at the same time.’

The Last of the Bonegilla Girls is the tale of four girls from different backgrounds and their friendship over a lifetime. It is a heartwarming, yet at times, heartbreaking tale which spans not only their generation, but introduces the next as well. It begins at the Bonegilla migrant camp and then follows them through their lives after their departure, as they embark on a new post war life in Australia. These girls remain friends and, apart from letter writing, share a few reunions over the years as well.

What I appreciated most about this story was the research. I have not read a great deal about this time period in Australia and really appreciated not only the history of migrants to Australia at this particular time period, but I felt that the author conveyed a fairly accurate  portrayal of life in Australia for everyone especially during the 1950s. Even with time period jumps to the 1970s and later, although briefer, there was still a true representation.

‘The Australians … they want us to come and do all the dirty jobs, to work in the dirt and the heat and the cold, to dig underground for the Snowy, to grow their food and work in their factories. But they don’t really want us to be Australians.’

With the book spanning decades, it was therefore difficult for a satisfactory amount of detail in both person and place to be conveyed to my liking. So after the initial detail of life at the migrant camp, things jumped around quite a bit and the depth began to diminish. With the underlying theme centred around how to compliment a life that brought together the old and new, the author did a good job. I felt how the European girls were torn in their attempts to placate both culture and family with trying to assimilate into a new society.

‘Some people just don’t like new Australians’

As mentioned, there is heartbreak in this read. Maintaining the old ways brought pain and sorrow with many a secret held onto. So whilst reunions brought some joy, especially with their children and then grandchildren, there was also resignation about what could never be for them. So from this point of view, it was sad, however, there was promise for a different life in the society their children were to grown up in. All up a worthy read, especially if you are interested in this particular time period in Australian history.

‘I can’t help but think … well, I can’t help but think about what might have been. Between the two of us. The time just wasn’t right, was it?’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

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