Review Blog

Dec 07 2016

A sunburnt childhood: Growing up in the territory by Toni Tapp Coutts

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Hachette Australia, 2016. ISBN 9780733634499
(Age: 15+) A sunburnt childhood is a memoir by Toni Tapp Coutts, who was born in Alice Springs but spent most of her childhood on Killarney Station, 430 kilometres south of Darwin. When her parents moved there in 1961, home was a shed made of posts supporting a roof of branches with an open fire for cooking. Bill and June Tapp transformed Killarney into a thriving and respected cattle property which welcomed a stream of visitors including the Governor-General and the ophthalmologist, Fred Hollows and his wife Gabi. The author's ability to recall her upbringing in detail has resulted in a vivid depiction of the life she shared with her parents, nine siblings and the staff who lived and worked on the property. The Tapp children coped with risks and enjoyed pleasures unknown to most city children, and learned the Mudburra language, bushcraft and stories from Aboriginal elders and friends.
The author's colloquial writing style helps to create a sense of her generous but pragmatic attitude to life in an environment which reveals the strengths and weaknesses of those who live in it. Younger readers may find some of the events confronting, especially those involving medical emergencies, injuries, deaths and the strain on personal relationships and business ventures caused by the consumption of alcohol. Toni Tapp Coutts' homesickness during her years at boarding school and her descriptions of the dramatic landscape in which she feels at home reveal a lifelong attachment to her family, her community and the outback. Photographs of family members, station staff and the homestead offer a glimpse of life on a Northern Territory cattle station over a timespan of half a century.
A sunburnt childhood will reward readers who seek an insight into the lives of people who have lived and worked in remote areas of Australia.
Elizabeth Bor

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