Elaine Forrestal

When the journey seems impossibly long

Before washing machines, washing was all done by hand and boiled in a copper like this one.

When the journey seems impossibly long and we think we can’t go one step further, we stop to rest. Inevitably we look back. When we do that we see how far we have already come. Often this is just the stimulus we need to set us off on the road again. Renewed energy and strength come from going back over past achievements, not just personal ones. As a human race we have come such a long way. We are far from prefect and probably never will be, but that is no reason to stop trying.

Reading Hannah Kent’s remarkable book, The Good People, has had this effect on me. The story of three women, two of them tried for murder back in 1826, is gritty and uncompromising. Times in the isolated Irish valley where they lived were incredibly hard. Access to medical help was very limited and superstitions ruled people’s lives. It is hard to imagine how anyone managed to survive, given the conditions they faced day by day. But the human spirit is indomitable and, little by little, life changes for the better. Ireland still exists and functions in the modern world. Visiting that valley near Killarney today reminds me of visiting the goldfields of Western Australia.

From the most basic huts, without plumbing or electricity, the people of the Irish valleys survived  freezing wet weather, crop failures, illness and hard physical work. Just eighty years later the people of the frontier town of Coolgardie survived the barren red desert in tents and humpies. There are no rivers and crops will not grow in the rocky soil of the goldfields. One hundred and sixty miles from the nearest civilisation, our own pioneers were just as isolated as the valley people in Ireland. There was plenty of gold to be found, but you can’t eat or drink that. Many of the prospectors came from Ireland. They believed in the luck of the Irish, but they also knew how to survive by determination and hard work.

I am inspired by Hannah Kent’s writing and can’t wait to get back to my own story of a young woman who, in spite of the hardships of living in the goldfields in the 1890s, faces life with courage and determination.

* * Don’t forget Books from Your Backyard, 10am to 3pm on Saturday 21st January at the State Library, Mezzanine Floor. Inspiring stories, fun activities and local authors and illustrators available to sign books for you.* *