The Story of Mary and Elizabeth Durack
by Brenda Niall
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Shortlisted, NSW Premier's Awards, Australian History Prize, 2012
Shortlisted, Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, 2012
Shortlisted, Australian Book Industry Awards, Biography of the Year, 2013
Shortlisted, WA Premier's Book Awards, 2012
Growing up in suburban Perth in the 1920s, the two Durack girls were fascinated by tales of the pioneering past of their father and grandfather overlanding from Queensland in the 1880s and setting up four vast cattle stations in the remote north.
A year spent together on the stations in their early twenties ignited in the sisters a lifelong love of the Kimberley, along with a growing unease about the situation of the Aboriginal people employed there.
Through war, love affairs, children and eventual old age, the Duracks continued to write and paint - their closely intertwined creative lives always shaped by the enduring power of the Kimberley region.
With unprecedented access to hundreds of private family letters, unpublished memoirs, diaries and family papers, Brenda Niall gets to the heart of a uniquely Australian story that spans the twentieth century.
Brenda Niall is one of Australia's foremost biographers. She is the author of four award winning biographies, including her acclaimed accounts of the Boyd family. In 2004 she was awarded the Order of Australia for 'services to Australian literature, as an academic, biographer and literary critic'. She frequently reviews for the Age, Sydney Morning Herald and Australian Book Review.
'Brenda Niall has produced a graceful and perceptive biography of two extraordinary creative women. She treads carefully through the minefield of controversies about their family's exploitation of Aboriginal labour, as well as their own interventions in Indigenous art and politics.' Australian Book Review
'Through private letters, diaries and family papers provided by surviving Durack family members, Niall unravels a compelling Australian story that is just as relevant to today's social fabric as it was when it first began more than 130 years ago.' Courier-Mail
'A rich portrait of two complex and inter-connected lives...And throughout is the marvellous incisive Niall ability to distil, to capture the essence of a situation or problem, to ask the penetrating questions, to display sympathy and empathy but never to shirk criticism or to be afraid of exposing frailty. The individual portraits are beautifully drawn and very nicely contrasted with both the sisters emerging as their own person but yet with much that is shared...The book breaks important new ground. It is celebratory but far from uncritical and it confronts complexity on every page.' John Thompson
'Yet there is so much to admire and enjoy in this profoundly interesting biography. As a picture of Perth society in the first half of the 20th Century it is as good as anything I know. As a sympathetic portrait of the difficulty women as mothers had to be creative and absorbed in their word, it is profoundly moving. As a picture of a rare closeness between two sisters it is, if anything, enviable. Brenda Niall could not write a poor book. But this is, quite simply, one of her very best.' Canberra Times
- The Text Publishing Company, March 2012
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