Wednesday 20 September 2023

Through My Eyes, Australian Disaster Zones: Alex

Through My Eyes, Australian Disaster Zones: Alex by Rosanne Hawke (Allen & Unwin) PB RRP $18.99 ISBN: 9781760877002

Reviewed by Kellie Nissen

The Through My Eyes series, published by Allen & Unwin has focused on global conflict zones, global natural disasters and now, Australian natural disasters – bushfires, cyclones and drought – from the perspective of children.

The third in the Australian series, Alex, by Rosanne Hawke, follows thirteen-year-old Alex Bray, as he navigates the devastating effects of drought in a rural community with his friends, Harry and Bonnie, and his parents.

It’s early 2020. After 36 of Australia’s driest months ever recorded, bushfires have swept through most of South Australia, wreaking havoc on rural communities and livestock. Many families are forced to sell up and move ‘into town’ – others, like Alex’s family – are able to stay but are doing it tough. Forced to euthanise over half their flock of sheep after fire swept through their property, Alex’s father, Tom, is struggling with deep depression, leaving Alex and his mother Rachel, to carry on with the farm as best they can.

Helping out in every way he can, Alex also has to juggle school – a slight respite in his day thanks to his longtime mate, Harry, and their new friend, Bonnie, whose father and grandfather rescue and raise camels.

Two stories are at play throughout this powerful novel. The first addressing the themes of family and depression as Alex tries to understand his father’s illness and help him through it, while supporting his mother and the responsibility he feels for the livelihood of their farm. The second story looks at climate change, sustainability and what children and communities can do to effect positive change.

I found myself immediately engaged in Alex’s story as he described his home and his passion for life on the land. I found myself wanting to shed tears as he talked about his father and his feelings of helplessness and fear that their family would never be the same again. And I smiled at the little moments of humour and friendship between Alex, Harry and Bonnie as they supported each other, acknowledging they all had their own difficulties.

Everyone in Australia was affected in some way by this prolonged drought. For many of us – those who live in cities and may have had to reduce our shower times and not water our gardens or wash our cars – true understanding of the personal devastation experienced by farmers and others in rural and remote communities cannot ever be gained. However, through Alex’s eyes, readers of all ages are provided a window into another world – close yet almost unimaginable. There will also be readers for whom Alex’s story is a mirror – reflecting their experiences and hopefully giving some comfort that their stories are being acknowledged in some way.

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