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With unprecedented access to hundreds of private family letters, unpublished memoirs, diaries and family papers, Brenda Niall gets to the heart of a uniquely Australian story that spans the twentieth century.
About the Author
Brenda Niall is one of Australia's foremost biographers. She is the author of four award-winning biographies, including her acclaimed accounts of the Boyd family.
‘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.’
‘One thing you come to expect from a Brenda Niall biography is the unexpected. I approached her recent successful biography of Jesuit priest William Hackett expecting a pious and reverential read. Rather it was tough, lear-sighted and immensely readable. Her biography of the Durack sisters has these characteristics and more…
‘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 20th 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 word, 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.’
‘Niall explores with warmth a contradictory pair of sisters.’
‘Using previously unpublished material, acclaimed biographer Brenda gives us a fascinating insight into a chapter of local history.’
‘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 and the people.’
‘The hold the north had over the two women, even in their old age, is tangible.’
‘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.’
Otago Daily Times
‘A celebration of place as well as two extraordinary women.’
‘Brenda Niall has written perceptively about the different but complementary personalities of Mary and Elizabeth. She has done the two sisters proud in this splendid and informative work.’
‘Award winning biographer Brenda Niall honours the Durack sisters’ legacy with this engaging story of their lives. A good one for book clubs.'
Audience: Tertiary; University or College
Number Of Pages: 272
Published: 21st March 2012
Dimensions (cm): 23.0 x 16.5