#aww2018 · 2018 Reviews · Australian · memoir · Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday Book Review: A Sunburnt Childhood by Toni Tapp Coutts


Welcome to a weekly post, Throwback Thursday. This weekly book review post is a way to share some old favourites, books that were published over a year ago and most importantly those books that have been languishing on the to be read pile for far too long!

Synopsis:a sunburnt childhood small

Toni Tapp grew up on the massive Killarney Station, where her stepfather, Bill Tapp, was a cattle king. But there was no ‘big house’ here – Toni did not grow up in a large homestead. She lived in a shack that had no electricity and no running water. The oppressive climate of the Territory – either wet or dry – tested everyone. Fish were known to rain from the sky and sometimes good men drank too much and drowned trying to cross swollen rivers.

Toni grew up with the Aboriginal people who lived and worked on the station, and got into scrapes with her ever-increasing number of siblings. She loved where she grew up – she was happy on the land with her friends and family, observing the many characters who made up the community on Killarney. When she was sent to boarding school all she wanted to do was go back to the land she loved, despite the fact that her parents’ marriage was struggling as Bill Tapp succumbed to drink and June Tapp refused to go under with him.

Toni’s love of the natural world and of people alike has resulted in a tender portrait of a life that many people would consider tough. She brings vividly to the page a story seldom seen: a Territory childhood, with all its colour, characters and contradictions.

My review:

A Sunburnt Childhood by Toni Tapp Coutts represents my favourite kind of memoir. I love nothing more than Australian outback based memoirs. This entertaining memoir chronicles the colourful life of a young girl growing up in the harsh expanse of Australia’s deep outback, on a cattle station owned by well know figure Bill Tapp. A Sunburnt Childhood is one unforgettable yarn, that provides the reader with an excellent feel for life on frontier Australia.

Toni Tapp Coutts recalls her extraordinary childhood spent in the Northern Territory as a child. Toni was one of ten children, the eldest, who moved to the territory at the tender age of  just five when Toni’s mother married the undisputed Australian cattle king Bill Tapp. Toni’s childhood was far from conventional, but it was normal for life in the Territory. Living on one of Australia’s most prosperous cattle empires enabled Toni to develop a strong connection to the land and the people of the Territory. On Killarney, her family’s cattle station, Toni learns to live and hunt off the land, with the help of the local indigenous community. The elders and the women of the area in which Killarney is situated took Toni under their wing. After witnessing many testing moments, from mother nature and the cattle business, Toni, along with her trail of younger siblings, developed a deep affinity to the land. Eventually all good things come to an end and when Toni came of a certain age, she was sent away from Killarney to a boarding school. Her longing for the land never ceased during this time and she desperately tried to make her way back to her happy place. In the meantime, Toni’s stepfather Bill struggled to keep a hold of his weakness for alcohol, which had a devastating effect on his marriage to Toni’s mother, June. Through it all, Toni’s passion for the land shaped her and her  commitment constant. A Sunburnt Childhood is a ripping yarn and a valiant testament to the glory of the Northern Territory community.

I have a weakness for memoirs that transport deep into the heart of Australia. A Sunburnt Childhood is a memoir that provides a very good example of life in the red centre of Australia. I enjoyed every anecdote expressed in this memoir by outback queen Toni Tapp Coutts.

Coutts is a natural storyteller and the words on this page had a great flowing quality. She has lived a big and colourful life, which comes across with ease on the pages of her memoir. The life Toni shares with her audience is a vibrant one, filled with treasured moments and times of great despair. She gives the reader a good feel for life in the great expanse of the outback. Toni outlines the beginnings of family life in a tin shed, with no water or electric city, through the establishment of the grand Killarney cattle empire. Toni never holds anything back, there is no restraint in her writing at any point. It is an honest and incredibly brave life, which is so far removed from my own childhood I found it utterly absorbing.

Within this memoir, Toni Tapp Coutts raises a number of key themes. From family relationships, marital pressures, alcoholism, the cattle business and the mismanagement of wealth. She also provides us with a rich insight into Aboriginal culture. Each of these themes are handled well by Coutts and I came away feeling like I had been given truthful education of life in the harsh climate of central Australia.

Setting plays a big role in A Sunburnt Childhood and I was very impressed with the way in which Coutts represented the Northern Territory in her novel. I loved learning more about the extreme weather patterns in the red centre, from the blistering heat to the relentless wet season. At all points the isolation and being at mercy to the elements is strongly felt. However, on the flip side, Coutts also reveals the overwhelming sense of community in outback Australia. The friendships Toni forms and the figures that enter and leave her life at various points leave an impression on this young woman. I am sure the stain they have left on Toni has contributed to the person she is today.

If you are looking for a book that offers an honest and engaging portrait of life in outback Australia, A Sunburnt Childhood is a good place to begin. It is a well composed memoir, that provides an excellent understanding of growing up in and learning to survive in the heart of Australia.

A Sunburnt Childhood by Toni Tapp Coutts was published on 22nd March 2016 by Hachette Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of A Sunburnt Childhood, Toni Tapp Coutts, visit here.

A Sunburnt Childhood, is book #78 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge

9 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday Book Review: A Sunburnt Childhood by Toni Tapp Coutts

  1. Beautiful review Amanda! I have a few memoirs about different women living in the outback, who run their own farms. The hard physical work and long hours is something I couldn’t do, I take my hat off to these women. A shame A Sunburnt Childhood is not in my collection. I’ll keep an eye out for it but I can’t even get to the ones i have and I’ve had them on my TBR shelf for sooooo long.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sue, glad to hear you enjoyed this one. I too have a good selection of these type of memoirs on my Everest. Time to clear them one day! There is a sequel to this one too if it should interest you.


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