Alannah Hill’s early life in the backblocks of Tasmania sounds frankly terrifying. She describes an impoverished family, a drunken, raging, violent father, a depressed and suicidal mother, errant, damaged older brothers, and sexual abuse (once at the hands of two policemen). Then there were the trashy neighbours with the incestuous teenagers. No wonder she escaped to Melbourne at the age of sixteen - only to face more horrors.
Her saving grace was a boutique (bow teek) called Indigo and the kindly people who ran it, and the kind family of her first boyfriend. The story of becoming an Australian fashion legend is compelling. Like many driven people, she worked really hard. Think 100 hour weeks. Yet despite her success, phone conversations with her mother yielded a relentless stream of negativity that is stupefying (“Only Fifth Avenue? Why aren’t you first? You’ll never be good enough will you?” is the tenor of it). At first, it seems like ignorant Irish Catholic babble designed to perpetually put her daughter down, but eventually you understand that though it was that, it was also a form of humour. Alannah learns later that her mother was, in fact, extremely proud of her.
Suffice to say that this is a gut-wrenching yet wise and heartening story from a generous spirit, a hugely talented girl from nowhere who made good, despite everything, including the loss of her brand. We can only wish her well. Coincidentally, I finished reading it, with tears in my eyes, at 2.30am, the same time at which she wrote the final paragraph.