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Growing up in suburban Perth in the 1920s, the two Durack girls were fascinated by tales of the pioneering past of their father and grandfather overlanding from Queensland in the 1880s and setting up four vast cattle stations in the remote north.
A year spent together on the stations in their early twenties ignited in the sisters a lifelong love of the Kimberley, along with a growing unease about the situation of the Aboriginal people employed there. Through war, love affairs, children and eventual old age, the Duracks continued to write and paint – their closely intertwined creative lives always shaped by the enduring power of the Kimberley region.
With unprecedented access to hundreds of private family letters, unpublished memoirs, diaries and family papers, Brenda Niall gets to the heart of a uniquely Australian story that spans the twentieth century.
‘Their relationship is brilliantly, vividly evoked…their deep connection to the far north, their abiding spiritual home, and their connection to the Aborigines make the book a modern classic…It is all written so fluently and seamlessly that I am quite lost in admiration…A distinctive and distinguished Australian book.’
‘There is so much to admire and enjoy in this profoundly interesting biography. As a picture of Perth society in the first half of the twentieth century it is as good as anything I know. As a sympathetic portrait of the difficulty women as mothers had to be creative and absorbed in their work, it is profoundly moving. As a picture of a rare closeness between two sisters it is, if anything, enviable. Brenda Niall could not write a poor book. But this is, quite simply, one of her very best.’
‘A compelling Australian story that is just as relevant to today’s social fabric as it was when it first began more than 130 years ago.’
‘A rich portrait of two complex and inter-connected lives…And throughout is the marvellous incisive Niall ability to distil, to capture the essence of a situation or problem, to ask the penetrating questions, to display sympathy and empathy but never to shirk criticism or to be afraid of exposing frailty. The individual portraits are beautifully drawn and very nicely contrasted with both the sisters emerging as their own person but yet with much that is shared…The book breaks important new ground. It is celebratory but far from uncritical and it confronts complexity on every page.’
‘Brenda Niall has produced a graceful and perceptive biography of two extraordinary creative women. She treads carefully through the minefield of controversies about their family’s exploitation of Aboriginal labour, as well as their own interventions in indigenous art and politics. Her brief portraits of other members of the family, especially the two brothers who dedicated their lives to improving the land up north and their Lear-like father, are an additional bonus of this absorbing book.’
‘With access to letters, diaries, memoirs and family papers Niall, a highly regarded biographer, has written an accessible biography of two remarkable Australian women who did much for the Kimberley.’
‘Despite the deep sense of melancholy running through the book, True North is a fascinating look into a life that no longer exists. Mary and Elizabeth had to fight some pretty heavy prejudices, not to mention the distraction of raising young children, to continue with their art, and True North is a fitting tribute to these two feisty women.’
‘I have read other stories of outback life in Australia, but none like this one.’
‘A celebration of place as well as two extraordinary women.’