Title: The Last of the Bonegilla Girls
Author: Victoria Purman
Published: April 24th 2018
Publisher: HQ Fiction
Genres: Fiction, Australian, Historical
Rating: 4.5 stars
Can the Bonegilla girls defeat their past? Or will it come to claim them?
1954: When sixteen–year–old Hungarian Elizabeta arrives in Australia with her family, she is hoping to escape the hopelessness of life as a refugee in post–war Germany.
Her first stop is the Bonegilla Migrant Camp on the banks of the Murray in rural Victoria, a temporary home for thousands of new arrivals, all looking for work and a better life. There, Elizabeta becomes firm friends with the feisty Greek Vasiliki; quiet Italian Iliana; and the adventurous Frances, the daughter of the camp’s director.
In this vibrant and growing country, the Bonegilla girls rush together towards a life that seems full of promise, even as they cope with the legacy of war, the oppressive nature of family tradition and ever–present sorrow. So when a ghost from the past reaches out for Elizabeta and threatens to pull her back into the shadows, there is nothing that her friends wouldn’t do to keep her safe.
But secrets have a way of making themselves known and lies have a way of changing everything they touch…
The Last of the Bonegilla Girls is a brand new novel from established South Australian author Victoria Purman. In her latest, Purman situates her story on Bonegilla, a migrant camp situated in rural Victoria. She highlights an important segment of our modern history in Australia, the arrival of migrants from across the world, who helped to create the very fabric of our nation today. It is also a story told directly from the heart, as Purman’s own family laid down their roots in Australia by passing through the gates of Bonegilla in order to forge a new life in the land of opportunity.
Opening in the year 1954, Elizabeta, a sixteen year old Hungarian girl arrives with her family in Australia from war torn Europe, hoping for a new life in a new country. Elizabeta and her family’s first experience of Australia is the Bonegilla Migrant Camp, located near the banks of the Murray River in rural Victoria. Bonegilla is the first stop for hundreds who arrive on Australia’s shores. It is here that Elizabeta forges a relationship with three other girls, of which she will carry with her for a lifetime. There is a Greek girl named Vasiliki, an Italian girl named Iliana and Frances, the daughter of the camp’s director. The foursome negotiate many changes during their time at Bonegilla and afterwards. The shadow of war follows them, along with sacrifice and entrenched family traditions. A secret each girl has transforms their very being and tests them to their very own limits. The Last of the Bonegilla Girls is a wonderful ode to the bonds of female friendship and the composition of our country.
Last year, Victoria Purman wowed me with her historical fiction novel, The Three Miss Allens. Purman ventures again into historical fiction territory, but her latest novel, The Last of the Bonegilla Girls, takes more of a modern history angle of our country. It is humbling to see Purman branch further afield and set her latest novel primarily around the rural location of Bonegilla, a migrant camp in Victoria. This is a novel with a clear personal history angle and I enjoyed my experience of The Last of the Bonegilla Girls.
Purman utilises alternating character points of view in the chapters of her novel to express her story. As this book is based on the friendship circle of four very different women, the shifting character voices approach used by Purman allows the reader to develop an understanding of each individual character, their family, hopes, dreams and customs. As a result the characterisation in this novel comes across as colourful and varied. It also allows the reader to share their empathy for each character around. I also didn’t have to play favourites!
The aspects of the novel that I appreciated the most were the echoes to the past. With the book set in 1954 and following on through the decades to the present day, there is plenty of ground to cover. Purman sets her scene well, outlining the moral codes, social changes and world events of the time. I loved the rich sense of nostalgia I got from the book. I also appreciated the language references in the novel, which was authentic but sometimes quite saddening how racist we were to new Australians. Perhaps this aspect of the novel has a bit to say about our treatment of new migrants today, as much as in the past.
The scenes based in Bonegilla itself were fascinating and obviously thoroughly researched by Purman. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were more curious readers out there such as myself, who will be inspired to do some more digging and find out more about Bonegilla and the thousands that passed through this migrant centre. I hope to one day make the trek over from the west to the east to experience this historically interesting locale firsthand.
Readers will find this is novel has a light and accessible touch. There are moments of joy and happiness, through romance, love, marriages and births, but there are also moments of despair. Scenes of great sadness, heartbreak, loss, missed opportunities, things left unsaid and sacrifices made for the purpose of family duty define many parts of The Last of the Bonegilla Girls. It will be sure to draw a mixed bag of emotions from any reader that selects this novel to read.
The best stories are those drawn from personal experience as they hold meaning, with the writer at the heart of the tale injecting something very special into their novel. I got this feeling from The Last of the Bonegilla Girls. I also connected to this novel on a personal level as my own family’s background is linked to the migrant experience in Perth, some ten years later than the Bonegilla Girls experience, but it still gives this particular novel brevity and personal connection.
The Last of the Bonegilla Girls is a wonderful ode to the bonds of female friendship and the composition of our country. Overall, this is one novel that ticks all my boxes, a great read!
The Last of the Bonegilla Girls by Victoria Purman was published on 24th April 2018 by HQ Fiction. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Last of the Bonegilla Girls, Victoria Purman, visit here.
*Please note that a free copy of this book was provided to me for review purposes through Beauty and Lace and HQ Fiction. To read the original review on the Beauty and Lace website please visit here.
The Last of the Bonegilla Girls is book #51 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge