Connor Court Publishing, Australia, 2022
Cover Antony Jeffrey’s daughter Ann
Design Guy Jeffrey
The Poinciana Tree is an homage to the author’s mother, but it is also a portrait of the author, his family and their lives. It is as well a social history of the first part of the 20th century in Australia, especially the years before, during and immediately after the second World War.
Brisbane and the Gold Coast are important sites in the Jeffrey family saga as much of the story takes place there, but there are periods spent in Melbourne and Sydney, seemingly much more cosmopolitan in those days than dusty, sleepy Brisbane.
In creating this partially imagined biography, Antony Jeffrey has called upon the memory of many family members from former and current generations. There are few if any written records of the incidents and times recounted in this tale – the author was a young boy and teenager for some of it and his memory is at best blurry.
Nevertheless we have a very clear and positive view of Aimée Jeffrey. She was obviously courageous, stoical, resilient and committed to family and friends. A drive from Brisbane to Melbourne in the clapped-out vehicle with a jumpy gear stick demonstrates the sort of gutsy woman she was.
With no other adult and with two young boys, she made her way south on often rough and remote roads. She’d set her mind to the task because she thought it would be good for the boys, and so she saw it through, no doubt quashing her misgivings and despair at all the difficulties.
There is a richness to this family saga, populated by a large cast of relatives, friends, work and social associates for all the protagonists. It’s brimful of detail and paints a clear and sometimes stark picture of the times, be it the experience of Aimée’s sister-in-law becoming a Japanese POW or Aimée’s misgivings about sending children away to boarding school.
Thematically, the book alludes to loneliness and grief, to love and devotion to duty; the accepted social norms of male dominance in decision making are not criticised though they and their consequences are illuminated.
Be it descriptions of houses and gardens, the undeveloped beauty of Surfers Paradise beach and its scattered weatherboard holiday shacks, there is a strong sense of nostalgia about the book. It’s not sentimental but it is a picture of an age sometimes made golden by memory.
Works like this are widely important as they give current generations a personalised and grass roots history of place and time. They are also important as vessels of family knowledge which would otherwise be lost.
Antony Jeffrey has approached this chronicler’s work with warmth and with a determination to honour the lives of his mother and her peers, to give us an understanding of the sheer tenacity and worth of this generation.
He paints for the reader pictures as vivid and evocative as the poinciana tree gracing the book’s cover. Who amongst us would not be beguiled by the shade and peace of its spectacular canopy?
Thank you Antony Jeffrey for my review copy and for a generous conversation about the book and the business of writing about family and history.