Community and Lifestyle

Educating Alice – the power of a personal story

James Nason, 03/05/2013

Educating Alice has hit national bestseller lists since being launched in Brisbane in late March. The saying goes there’s nothing more powerful than a personal story. If you need proof, read Educating Alice.

The catch cry for people in the bush these days is to tell their story, to help bridge the gap in understanding that exists between the city and the country.

Telling a personal story is easy to talk about, but much harder to do. Being prepared to lay your inner most fears, hopes, thoughts and insecurities on the line takes courage. It’s a trait Alice Greenup clearly doesn’t lack.

Alice is a well-known face in the northern beef industry. She is a qualified ag scientist, has advised producers as a departmental extension officer, has coordinated major beef information days, held leadership roles on high-level committees, authored papers on research, been recognised with industry achievement awards, and with husband Rick has started a family and grown a small property into a large Santa Gertrudis stud selling more than 400 bulls a year. And that was all before the time she was 40.

Pretty impressive stuff, but even more so when you consider that not so long ago, by her own admission, Alice was a city girl who couldn’t tell a bull from a cow.

In the early 1990s, aged 18, Alice rode out of her home town of Melbourne on the back of a motorbike in search of adventure. When she ran out of money in Mackay, she heard about a job as a governess on a cattle station.

Despite lacking a shred of knowledge about rural life, she gave it a go. It was a decision that would change her future irrevocably, introducing her to what would become two major loves of her life – agriculture, and future husband Rick Greenup, who was working as a jackaraoo on the same station.

Educating Alice colourfully documents Alice and Rick’s quite remarkable journey since that time.

City girl meets country boy is far from a unique story in the bush, but this book packs a punch you may well not expect. It is told with engaging openness and brutal honesty as Alice recounts a journey that has seen more than its fair share of setbacks and challenges, but with uplifting moments of triumph and inspirational achievements as well.

It is a story that captures the soaring highs and demoralising lows of rural life: the unrelenting demands of a rainfall-dependent cattle business, the exhilaration of rain, the anguish of drought, the deep connection with animals and the land, the constant sacrifices to make paper-thin finances stretch, the importance of strong rural communities and support networks, the fragility of life, the simple joys of time spent with friends and family.

Alice is a gifted writer who can bring the minutiae of property work to life, putting the reader in the saddle and immersing their senses in the action of a cattle muster with absorbing clarity.

For those born in the bred in the bush, Educating Alice provides a fascinating insight into how life in the bush and its language and customs can appear strange and unusual when viewed from the perspective of someone new to the tribe. In recounting her own outback education, Alice provides an intriguing education in reverse for country readers.

There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, particularly as Alice relives the many times she sent a brace of ringers or a room full of country people into hysterics with her hilarious brand of early bush naivety, such as this first attempt at an ice-breaker during smoko at her first station job: “So, what cattle have you been rustling today?” Hers was a long rural apprenticeship, earned “one buck, one blister and one faceful of dirt at a time”.

There are heartfelt moments from the struggles to keep a budding but long-distance rural romance alive to the devastating loss of valuable livestock and a terrible horse-riding accident that nearly took Alice’s life.

They say there is at least one book in everyone. The enduring feeling after reading Educating Alice is that it’s a good thing Alice found the time to tell her story.  Not only is this a great read, it is the kind of book that can play an  important role in helping to bridge the gap in understanding between city and country people.

It is a naïve thought, perhaps, but an enticing one none the less, to imagine that if some of those who lack first-hand knowledge about agriculture but regularly line up to kick farmers over issues from animal welfare to environmental management were to read Educating Alice, that their perceptions of livestock producers as greedy, uncaring individuals may shift just a little.

The fact that Educating Alice has already hit national bestseller lists is a sign it is already making a well-deserved mark far beyond the realms of agriculture. 

  • For more information about Educating Alice click here

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