The Road From Coorain

Jill Ker Conway

Read September, 2006

Jill Ker Conway's book is an almost shockingly open account of her life, a story well worth the telling. It narrates her trip from the dusty Australian Outback through the loss of close family, college, depression, and her departure from Australia. By the time she's made it 25, she has lived two or three lifetimes by anyone's account; and in her final departure every emigrant will recognize at least a fragment of their own story, of the fear, joy, hope and confusion.

Conway went on to become prominent as president of Smith College, and her life's experience surely stood her in excellent stead. As president she was later followed by Ruth Simmons, who as of this writing is now president of Brown. Simmons's own life has been through as many interesting twists as Conway's, and I imagine when that book is written, there will be surprising parallels between the desperate wards of Houston and the dusty Outback. Smith is surely richer for having hosted these people.

I disliked Conway's book of her tenure at Smith which, while entertaining for its portrayal of faculty life, seemed too self-aggrandizing. Some of that same streak is present here, too. But this book puts that streak in perspective, making it easy to not only forgive but also trace and appreciate. And if for nothing else, read this book for its first chapter, “The West”. There cannot be a better or more taut, or indeed more hauntingly memorable, account of the Outback.