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The Road from Coorain: A Woman's Exquisitely Clear-Sighted Memoir of Growing Up Australian

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  11,016 ratings  ·  556 reviews
Jill Ker Conway tells the story of her astonishing journey into adulthood—a journey that would ultimately span immense distances and encompass worlds, ideas, and ways of life that seem a century apart.

She was seven before she ever saw another girl child. At eight, still too small to mount her horse unaided, she was galloping miles, alone, across Coorain, her parents' thirt
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Paperback, 238 pages
Published August 11th 1990 by Vintage (first published 1989)
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4.04  · 
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 ·  11,016 ratings  ·  556 reviews


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Jeanette
Nov 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Poignant and lyrically expressive memoir for the first 13 or 14 years of this woman's (Jill Ker Conway)life was the focus of the first half of this book. That portion is entire 5 star breathless. Stark, real, sharp, luxuriant- the natural Western plains of Australia girl child world.

But after the move to Sydney (off of Coorain sheep country isolation)it cuts to her latter years of schooling and family life; then every year of progressive aging becomes closer to a highly aesthetic intellectual an
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Peter Tillman
Oct 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs, travel
I first read The Road from Coorain not long after it was published, liked it a lot then, and just finished rereading it [2014]. It's a first rate memoir of a girlhood in an isolated sheep station in western New South Wales in the 1930s, the loss of her father in an extended drought, the family's move to Sydney, her struggles as a "bush child" in the metropolis, the loss of her brother in a car wreck, her coming-of-age through education, and her mother's declining health. The book ends in 1960, a ...more
Emily
Nov 10, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2003
I spent a while this weekend reading The Road from Coorain, a memoir popular about fifteen years ago that I'd found around the office. In it, Jill Ker Conway, an academic and the first female president of Smith College, tells the story of her youth and education in Australia up to the day she left for America at age 26.

The first third of the book, in which she describes her life on a sheep ranch in a remote part of New South Wales, is what makes this book worthwhile. Conway never knew a child ot
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Great Book Study
Didn't know I was going to love this book. Jill Ker Conway came of age during a time when society did not know what to do with an intelligent woman. She only wanted to be taken seriously, and she was determined to make a difference in the world. And she did!

My review: The Road From Coorain
Michael
Excellent memoir of the outback childhood and Sydney schooling of a woman who became noted as a historian, feminist, and President of Smith College.

The first third about Conway's pre-teen years on an 18,000 acre sheep farm in remote New South Wales in the 30's was most satisfying to me for its vibrant evocation of the beauties and struggles of rural family life. The isolation of their ranch encouraged self reliance, and when her brothers were sent off to school, she came to work closely with he
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Jonathan
Feb 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Solid memoir on growing up in 40s Australia, first in the Outback on a sheep farm that nearly collapses due to a long drought, then in Sydney as she tries to adjust to life a smart, pretty woman in a very chauvinistic academic world. She loses some important people way too early, and her mom begins to lose her grip on reality.

I enjoyed the book and it was well written. I definitely liked it better when it was in Coorain, the sheep farm her parents bought and settled about 10 hours west of Sydney
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Kate
Jun 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: feminists, intellectuals, nature lovers, and people interested in family dynamics
Recommended to Kate by: My high school English teacher and my memoir writing teacher.
A fantastic and engaging memoir showing how Jill Ker Conway's early years on the sheep farm in Coorain, Australia helped shape her into the academic she later became here in the United States.

This book starts off beautifully with in depth descriptions of the harsh Australian outback, a place I've never been, but would like to go, and through Ms. Conway's words I was there. Then the book ends with Jill Ker Conway leaving for America at age 26. I enjoyed the fact that education was fun for her, no
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Chrissie
Nov 24, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to Chrissie by: Lynne
A good book about growing up in the outback of Australia during the 30s. It is this part of the book that most people like. I did enjoy the description of the terrain and vegetation and climate, the beauty of the place, its solitude and isolation. The author grew up at a distance of a 10 hour car ride west of Sydney. This part is through the eyes of the author as a child. It is about drought and hardship and the death of her father, a hard scrabble life still filled with good memories. This part ...more
Lisa
May 15, 2018 rated it liked it
My experience with this memoir ebbed and flowed. I was captivated by the first quarter of the book about Conway's experiences growing up on a sheep farm in Coorain. Then there were pages and pages detailing mundane high school and university experiences in Sydney including her coursework and even what she wrote on her essay exams. I became interested again during the last quarter of the book, as Conway strived to find her footing as a woman and a scholar the late 1950s/early 1960s Sydney.
Calzean
The author's childhood in the far West of NSW was the star of this memoir. She describes with great clarity and love of the harsh, dusty, dry and lonely life of graziers in the post WWII era. In the second half the book's focus is on her angry frustrated mother, life as an intellectual woman in Australia in the time of great misogyny and her desire to understand much more than the rote learning offered by many courses.
She is a fine writer who uses words as her easel to paint the scenes of her ea
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Cherie
Dec 25, 2013 rated it liked it
I enjoyed reading this story very much, but I have to admit that I liked the first half of the story much better than the last half. I have had a hard time trying to figure out why though. I feel that it was more because of the information about Australia and life on the sheep ranch and conditions then, than the more mundane times of an academic in Sydney. It feels wrong to make this comparison, but it is the truth for me.

The isolation and desolation endured by the young woman and her family in
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Missy J
3.5*

First book of 2019. Started off my reading journey with a memoir in Australia. I have never heard of Jill Ker Conway (1934-2018) prior to reading this book. She is a scholar, writer and the first female president of Smith's College. I didn't know what to expect from this book.

Many readers have already mentioned that they preferred the first half of the book to the second half. In the first half of the book, she describes her childhood and upbringing in the Australian Outback. Her father owne
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Barb in Maryland
Jun 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant.

I may come up with more words later, but right now I'm in a 'good book coma'.
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly

A memoir that is crying out for a sequel--what happened to her in the U.S.? To her old mother whom she had left in Australia?

The author was both rich and poor as a child. Rich, because her father who was a world war one veteran managed to acquire a vast landholding in New South Wales; and poor, because the family itself (husband, wife and three kids) had to work on the land, unlike landowners elsewhere in the world who had slaves, serfs or peasants to work for them. Her father died early and one
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Jeanette
Jan 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: All
"Recollections of a harsh and beautiful journey into adulthood..."

I remember this autobiography for the decription of Australia. Jill is born to parents who have pioneered a sheep station. They struggle against the seasons and lonliness. Hill is home schooled. Her brothers left for boarding school and WWII. She had to be a "hand." When her father was killed in a stocktank ,her Mother had to admit failure -- so they moved to the city with disasterous results.

Australian women and men were suppose
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A Loosig
Jan 27, 2015 rated it it was ok
If only the whole book was written in the style of her childhood years. We meet her and her family, learn about what their lives were like, and get to enjoy an interesting personal account of what the Australian "Bush" is like.

Once she enters school, though, we hear only very brief accounts of the players in her social life and instead are subjected to relentless and unnecessary details about the subjects she studies and her every reaction to them.

Jill, we get it! You're an intelligent woman w
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Ryan Toh
Sep 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
The Road from Coorain is an memoir written by Jill Ker Conway detailing her life as a child on the outback of Australia moving to the city. Her young life has numerous obstacles, from droughts to family tragedies. The author had led a fascinating life; I learned much about living in the outback - raising sheep and obtaining one's resources independently - and her story of growing up as a strong, intellectual woman in a chauvinistic age powerful.

The memoir is well written; as a memoir, it appears
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Kate
Jun 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I am reviwing this book now because I just came across it on another list and it bought back to mind a wonderful experience that I was blessed to have.... This book set in motion a whole series of events that meant I was able to visit the original homestead. It is a stunning story of fortitude, perseverance and an ability to get the best out a really harsh reality.

This book was recommended to me by my Brother (he lives in New York). I was reading it on a camping/tramping holiday in the South Is
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Lissa Notreallywolf
Oct 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
I loved this book because of the writing, and since I didn't read the jacket, I had no idea who the author was at first. I was reading it in the same way I read My Brilliant Career, to which it has been compared. Aside from the setting in Australia, I found a resonance between the two books, which aside from the setting are both about intelligent women in a society which does not approve of that combination. Another thing that struck me was how the author's perspective on her mother shifts-in th ...more
Janet Mahlum
May 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books I've read in a while. Think of Little House on the Prairie, for adults, in Australia. She has a beautiful writing style that is charming, intellectual, poetic, and artistic. She is insightful and honest, able to hold two points of views and express both eloquently. She discusses the disparity between men and women, their salaries, the positions they can hold in plain, simple, matter-of-fact ways. "To begin with, I'd have to understand the history of women's situatio ...more
Ksenija
Jan 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Even if Jill Ker Conway hadn't distinguished herself as the first female president of smith college, I would still highly recommend this book. this is a memoir of her first 25 years growing up in Australia's bush country and eventually moving to Sydney. it is startling to read about conditions and a lifestyle that seem more suited to the 1800s, rather than the mid 20th-century, and i definitely have a tinge of envy that as a seven-year-old, Ker Conway was helping her dad to herd sheep on horseba ...more
K
Apr 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I first read this beautiful memoir in a class in college and loved it then. Reading it again 15 years later, many of the same themes and perspectives spoke to me (education and the orienting and reorienting of oneself in the world; the discovery of literature and history; the influence of nature and environment on cultural and personal identity), as well as some different and new themes that I don't remember from before (mothers and daughters; the glory of work; the experience of losing a loved ...more
Sharon Zink
Oct 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The author describes in wonderful detail her life as a child growing up on a station in the outback of Australia. The autobiography continues until she leaves Australia for Harvard University. It takes awhile to get into the first chapter, but before the end of that chapter I was hooked. This book made me decide that I am not at all educated. Kind of uncomfortable.
Idarah
Aug 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
This was my first autobiography, and I discovered it as a miniseries on PBS. I found that I related a lot to Jill in feeling out of place in one's skin and environment. Her anecdotes and hardships made me both laugh and sigh. Plus, talk about visuals. I felt like I was in the Australian Outback with her. This is a must read for women.
Margaret
An amazing memoir that I sailed through. While reading this I often wonder if I could have survived the harshness of such an environment and upbringing. I admire the tenacity of the author. One of my favorite memoirs.
Kalyn Woodbury
Dec 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
I got this memoir as a Christmas gift and it was a nice change; I doubt I’d buy something like this myself, so I was excited to dive into something different. A lot of reviewers say they liked the first half more, but I honestly think I prefer the second half. She seemed to learn a lot about herself and grow as a person in the end, developing a better understanding of her mother and the world around her. It was nice to read, especially on a cozy Christmas afternoon :-)
Bob Newman
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
not following the yellow brick road

You read some books as though from a distance, others hit close to your heart; resonate with special force. This sensitively-composed, well-written autobiography meant a lot to me, not only because I liked the style, but also because of the author's honesty, humor, strong character, and lack of pomposity. In short, what I liked about THE ROAD FROM COORAIN was exactly what I liked about Australia. I emigrated to Australia and lived there for 16 years, not on an
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Vanessa
Sep 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
The Road from Coorain is a heart touching memoir that sweeps you away to places that some could only imagine. Jill Ker Conway writes her life story in such a way that really captures everyone and every memory. Every aspect of her childhood, down to the smell of the flowers at her countryside house, is described in a beautiful organized way.

From the beginning you are thrust into countryside Australia, where the people out there hardly ever see other human beings. Where cattle is scarce but sheep
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Lisa (Harmonybites)
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: The Ultimate Reading List
This is the memoir of a woman who grew up on an Australian sheep farm and would go on to become the first woman president of Smith College. I started this book expecting to read a story about the Australian outback and got that--and a lot more. Yes, the picture of growing up on a isolated sheep "station" in the forties was certainly interesting. Conway starts with the landscape, giving a picture of the flat and vast vistas, the endless periodic droughts in the arid, ecologically fragile land and ...more
Clarice Stasz
Jun 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This superb account of Conway's early life in Australia is a literary star. She immerses the reader fully in the outback with its tough weather and culture. A place requiring hardiness, Conway develops the same quality as a small child on horseback in the sheep acreages with her father. That it paid harshly on family life was no surprise. Many reviewers found this period the best material, more interesting than her difficulties as a woman in the university.

Having had an academic career, I must
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Jill Ker Conway was an Australian-American author. Well known for her autobiographies, in particular her first memoir, The Road from Coorain. She was also Smith College's first female president, from 1975 to 1985, and served as a visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2004 she was designated a Women's History Month Honoree by the National Women's History Project.

(from
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“Her ideas were expressions of her inability to accept her own personal tragedy and her quest for some certainty on which she could rest a troubled spirit. Her her lack of education was a real handicap, because she had no historical or philosophical perspective from which to analyze her own experience of grief and loss. Because we lived in a cultural wasteland of suburbia, there were no schools or evening classes she might have attended which could offer an intellectually disciplined approach to her quest. Nor were there any churches which might have offered comfort through the beauty of their liturgy.” 6 likes
“I learned that time manages the most painful partings for us. One has only to set the date, buy the ticket, and let the earth, sun, and moon make their passages through the sky, until inexorable time carries us with it to the moment of parting.” 0 likes
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