Monday, April 1, 2013

Bananas, Bullfrogs and Boarding School

Bananas, Bullfrogs and Boarding School My Coochiemudlo by Marie-Louise Potter
For anyone who has been following along closely at home you will know two of my friends both write about books they have read on their blogs.  (Check out Inda's &c. &c. & Emma's Everything Looks Perfect From Far Away)

So following in their illustrious footsteps, I'm going to attempt to review a book I read today.  I started this book with the intention of passing sometime today as it is a public holiday and I was bored.  But quickly I found that this book was hard to put down and its probably a good indication of how captivating this book is that I read it in pretty much a single sitting.

Bananas, Bullfrogs and Boarding Schools is written by Marie-Lousie Potter whom I know as we both attend the same church.  It is the story of her life growing up on Coochiemudlo Island in Moreton Bay just off the coast of Victoria Point near Brisbane.
Map showing Coochiemudlo Island off the coast of Victoria Point © Google maps
The book is 224 pages in softcover featuring cover artwork of the island and the main mode of transport one of the boats by Joan McNaught.

The book begins with Marie-Lousie recounting a rushed trip from Japan back to Australia to be with her father who was very ill, then recounts her childhood and life on Coochie and then as a bordrer at Sommerville House school in Brisbane, it once again ends as the flight from Japan prepares to land into Sydney jolting Marie-Lousie back from her memories.

The book recounts the harsh realities of the 1940's & 50's as the Elliot family struggle with the end of the war which uproots them from their lives in the Solomon Islands, then PNG before making the move from Melbourne to the seemingly isolated life of Coochiemudlo Island.

Marie-Louise was not quite four when her parents signed a contract to purchase the farm on Coochiemudlo and the story recounts growing up in what seems like an idyllic paradise, not to far from Victoria Point, but still isolated from the rest of the world.  There are many mentions of the harsh realities of moving to a small cottage on an island without any 'mod cons' or at least what was considered modern in the 1940's.

The severity of the changeable weather in Queensland is often noted in the way it effects the farm, from striking droughts which often drain the life away from the precious crops of fruit and vegetables the family grew, to repeated cyclones that as they do destroyed every living thing in their path while damaging boats the lifeline to the mainland.
On the third night the howling of the wind stopped and there was an eerie silence.  "The cyclone's gone," I thought, but it was the eye passing over us.  Before long the wind picked up again from a different direction.
Marie-Louise recounts with love stories of extended family, of weddings of safe returns from war, of heart breaking losses, all delivered by regular mail in a time before phone lines and well before modern conveniences like email, mobiles etc.

Marie-Louise then goes onto recount how she was shipped off to Sommerville House a Queensland school as a boarder in the boarding school.  At first she hated it then she realised just how much freedom it granted her and how much she was learning, but she always felt guilty of the cost it placed on her family, already struggling on the farm on Coochie.

Some of the most poignant scenes in the book revolve around Marie-Louise coming to her faith in Christ and how the various groups of friends and Bible clubs at Sommerville House made her come to meet the risen Christ and trust in Him.  I was particularly taken with the scene when she was practicing piano when she felt His presence behind her.

I thoroughly recommend this book to everyone who has an interest in the history of Coochiemudlo Island as it seemingly doubles as the unofficial history of the Island.  But it is a heartwarming tale of the struggles, trials and excitement of a family taming the wilds of Australia and not only making it their own but writing their deserved place in the history books of the Island.  I also enjoyed the tales of youth from Marie-Louise as she grew up in an isolated place, as well as learning that kids are often the same no matter which country or island they grew up on or in which decade.
Coochiemudlo Island as it looks today © Google Maps
My next step will be to remember to take the book to church one Sunday morning so I can get Marie-Louise to autograph it for me.

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