Author: Anna Bligh
Publisher: Harper Collins (2015)
“Anna Bligh knows something about hard knocks and high walls. She was raised by a single mother in the working class Gold Coast, a young girl with a soon-to-be-estranged dad who struggled with alcoholism. She spent over 17 years in the rough and tumble of the Queensland Parliament (seven of them as either Deputy Premier or Premier) and she was the first woman to be elected Premier of an Australian State in her own right. In 2011, she led Queensland through the devastation of Australia’s largest natural disasters. Her Party then lost the 2012 State election and Anna stepped down to start a new life, only to find herself diagnosed with cancer.”
I remember seeing Anna Bligh on the news during the Queensland floods in 2011 (I lived in a different state) and being impressed by her leadership. So I was already interested in this book, but my desire to read it was cemented when I saw that Anna’s dad struggled with alcoholism.
Not much space as given to Anna’s early life in the book, which made sense given that she is primarily known for her leadership and that’s what would draw most readers in. As a fellow COPMI (child of a parent with a mental illness), I was disappointed that there was no mention of what – if any – role Anna’s father played in the rest of her life. Having said that, it was remarkably brave of her to share as much as she did. However, Anna did reflect on the impact of addiction on her father, conceptualising it as something separate from him, something for which she did not blame him, because he too suffered from the “constant yearning hunger” and “overwhelming pull” of it. She acknowledged that when sober he was “a devoted father” and that he managed to control his alcoholism not longer after he and Anna’s mother divorced. Did these early experiences play a part in forming her values, her political motivations?
As someone who doesn’t know a lot about politics, I was concerned that I would lose interest or wouldn’t understand the parts about Anna’s career. My concern was unfounded. Anna focused on a few key milestones and achievements in her career, and explained the workings of politics in a way that was relatively easy to follow. I was impressed by the enduring changes she made in Queensland, such as the construction on Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) and the introduction of equal access to early education.
Anna wove her love for her family into her political anecdotes. This was one of my favourite parts of the book. For instance, Anna recounted going to the polls with her husband and two sons for the election that ultimately lost her Premiership. It was not her loss that stood out to her, but her son’s ability to stay calm when baited by journalists. It was examples like these that allowed readers to understand Anna Bligh beyond her political career. She was not just a politician. She was a daughter, a wife, a mother and a friend.
It doesn’t matter which side of politics you support. Through the Wall speaks to the humanity in all of us.
You can buy a copy of Through the Wall from Readings independent booksellers.