From the bestselling author of Alice to Prague, for fans of Toni Tapp Coutts' A Sunburnt Childhood and Mary Groves' An Outback Life, comes Tanya Heaslip's extraordinary story of growing up with her sister and brothers in the late 1960s and early 70s on an outback cattle property just north of Alice Springs.
An Alice Girl is Tanya Heaslip's extraordinary story of growing up in the late 1960s and early 70s on a vast and isolated outback cattle property just north of Alice Springs.
Tanya's parents, Janice and Grant 'the Boss', were pioneers. They developed the cattle station where water was scarce, where all power was dependent on generators and where a trip to town for supplies usually meant a full day's journey. Grant was determined to teach his children how to survive in this severe and isolated environment and his lessons were often harsh.
Tanya and her siblings led a childhood unimaginable to many Australians. Whether working the mobs of cattle with the stockmen, playing cattle-duffing on horseback or singing and doing lessons at their School of the Air desks, the children were always aware of the demands of the land.
‘I remember the clip clop of Dad’s boots outside our little stone school room, which meant that Dad was about to pull us out to go mustering, and school would have to wait!’ Tanya recalls. ‘Station work took priority over everything – especially learning and study.’
But while her sister and brothers loved riding and working stock, Tanya's heart longed to be back at the homestead with her books and stories.
Her favourite part of the day was half an hour on School of the Air, where she talked to her teacher over a two-way radio, and heard the voices of other children through the static, scattered around a 700 square mile radius of the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Alice Springs, where School of the Air was based.
‘I couldn’t see my teacher or my fellow students, but I could paint images of their faces in my imagination,’ Tanya said. ‘When the static got too bad, we couldn’t even hear their voices, so I had to make up what they were saying in my mind. When we could hear each other, we would sing songs and recite poems and read aloud over the air. It was like live theatre, so much fun, especially when we could share stories with each other. We loved talking about our world – days on the back of a horse, droving cattle through the dust, huge skies are stars at night!’
In a childhood that many would consider very tough, Tanya tells of this precious time with raw honesty, humour, love and kindness. This is the story of an Alice girl.
'Tanya Heaslip lived the outback childhood of Australian mythology. Stories like this remind us that love of place is universal.'
Kim Mahood, NSW Premier's Literary Award for Craft for a Dry Lake
'Tanya's story glows with love for family and the rugged, wild outback land that never leaves her heart.'
Toni Tapp Coutts, bestselling author of A Sunburnt Childhood
'Territory station kids like Tanya had the ultimate upbringing . . . A great read!'
Ted Egan AO, bestselling author of Outback Songman
About The Author
Raised on an isolated cattle station north of Alice Springs during the 1960s and 70s, Tanya learnt about the outside world through the Correspondence School and School of the Air. She spent many hours dreaming of the overseas lands depicted in her childhood storybooks.
When she was twelve years old, she was sent sixteen hundred kilometres away from her outback home to a boarding school, a traumatic and life changing experience. Ultimately, she became the first student from School of the Air to go on to graduate from Law School.
She built a career in law – focusing as much as possible around outback issues because of her passion and interest in the land. Highlights included working on the Lindy Chamberlain Inquiry, and litigation involving mining magnates in multi-million dollar disputes.
Tanya never stopped dreaming, though, which led her to the foot of the Berlin Wall as it fell in November 1989. Later she found herself in a tiny Eastern Bloc town where no one spoke English, and then onto fairytale Prague, a city of spires and castles and cobblestones. There she used her law to teach English to lawyers and judges, and discovered – to her joy - how truly connected our world really is.
Tanya has since published Alice to Prague (AU 2019), An Alice Girl (AU 2020) and Beyond Alice (AU 2021).
Tanya still works in law and lives back in Alice Springs with her husband. Tanya is President of the NT Writer's Centre.