The Last of the Bonegilla Girls is a brand new novel (released today!) that ticks a whole lot of boxes for things I like to read – it’s historical fiction, it’s the story of ‘ordinary’ women, it’s set in Australia, and written by an Australian women. Beyond this I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this book. What I got was a sweet and sometimes sad story that gave some insight into what it might have been like for the hundreds of thousands of ‘new Australians’ who came here after the Second World War.
The book starts with four young women at Bonegilla Migrant Camp – three migrants recently arrived from different parts of Europe, and the Australian daughter of the camp director. We follow their friendship from their first meetings in the camp in 1954 to the modern day, and through alternating perspective chapters we see some of the highs and lows of each woman’s life.
I am a bit of a fan of story telling through alternating perspectives, and in this case I thought it worked especially well since it not only helped me to understand each woman a bit better, but I also loved how I could see the secrets they kept from each other (and, oh, there were some secrets!)
The book touched on some pretty serious issues – as you can probably imagine given what these families went through before arriving, and some of the treatment they got once they did – but in a reasonably light/superficial way. While the women were touched by some awful events, the parts of the book I found most moving were the ‘ordinary’ things – things like love and loss and betrayal and illness.
I thought it was interesting to see not just a ‘European migrant’ experience, but how that experience might have been different depending on a person’s background. Also, how difficult it must have been for these young women who arrived as children or teens and grew up in a kind of a limbo between their traditional families and a new and changing Australian society.
And, of course, I loved the friendship – the way the women supported each other through difficult times, and how even if they hadn’t seen each other for years they seemed to fit back together so easily.
I gave this one 3.5 stars, and would recommend it for anyone looking for a read about women’s friendship that is light-ish but will still give you feels – a bit heart-warming and a little bit heart-breaking too.