The good: Lovely to follow each of the girls throughout their lives.
The not-so-good: Sometimes I would have liked more detail about some stages of their lives.
Why I chose it: Victoria Purman’s books are always great – thank you Harlequin for the copy.
Publisher: HQ (Harlequin)
Rating: 9 out of 10
Australia in the 1950s and 60s is a topic that hasn’t been covered heavily in fiction to date. In history, that was a fascinating time as people from many countries and cultures came to Australia after World War II. Many of these people were from Europe, with no home to go back to, and/or no family. These displaced people (or ‘DPs’) sailed across the world to populate and help grow Australia into the multicultural nation we know today. It was the dawn of a new Australia, and these people were willing to be our New Australians. These days the term doesn’t exist, but for my grandparents and uncle, it was a term that they felt rightly explained their situation. They were all willing to adopt their new country and make it their home. In fact, if you ask Grandma today, what nationality she is – she will say Australian (or sometimes ‘old new Australian’!).
You may be wondering what my family history is doing in a book review. It’s because Victoria Purman has written a story about people exactly like my family, migrants to Australia. I am delighted that this book exists, to learn more about the experiences of others and fill in the parts that nobody remembers. Bonegilla was a migrant camp in Victoria which housed thousands of migrants on arrival to Australia. It helped them to learn English and find a job. There were friendships made in the camp that lasted a lifetime. The Last of the Bonegilla Girls follows the friendship made between four girls from 1954 to present day. Three are new to Australia – Vasiliki from Greece, Iliana from Italy and Elizabeta, Hungarian but recently living in Germany. They become friends with the daughter of the camp director, Frances. All the girls are eager to find their best life and rush forward into whatever the future holds. But it’s not that easy. Elizabeta’s past appears at the camp, throwing her family in disarray – but that’s not all. Vasiliki may be in Australia, but her family still expect her to uphold the same traditions as they would in Greece. Iliana cannot find love and Frances gets herself into trouble – several times over. As the years pass by, the Bonegilla girls find themselves scattered across the country but they will always help each other in need.
I came to this novel for the migrant story, but I stayed for the wonderful friendship Victoria Purman has painted between the four girls. Even though for a large chunk of the story they are physically apart, their friendship shines through in their individual lives. What would the others do in this situation? What would their response be? They influence each other, and even though they compare themselves to each other (who is married, who has children) there isn’t any rivalry. It’s just true friendship. I enjoyed following each one of them, although I would have liked some more detail at times about each of their lives. I bet Frances got into heaps more scrapes in between chapters and I would have loved to hear about Iliana’s role in her family’s business. But these are minor niggles. The pages fly by. The story is written in such a friendly, welcoming style that you can’t help but be embraced by the Bonegilla girls and become one of them.
The details of Australia as it changes as a country through the 1960s, 70s and right through to the present day are also fascinating. The good ol’ Aussie barbeque with snaggers and a limp salad are kind of past (today it’s quinoa salad and gourmet sausages) and eating pasta is commonplace. It’s almost as if the country is growing with the girls. Overall, this is a lovely story that will get into your heart – don’t be surprised if you find yourself crying at the end.