It’s hot, dry and sweaty on Ash Road, where Graham, Harry and Wallace are getting their first taste of independence, camping, just the three of them. When they accidentally light a bushfire no one would have guessed how far it would go. All along Ash Road fathers go off to fight the fires and mothers help in the first aid centres. The children of Prescott are left alone, presumed safe, until it’s the fire itself that reaches them. These children are forced to face a major crisis with only each other and the two old men left in their care.
The best selling Ash Road is an action-packed adventure story, so evocative of rural Australia you can taste the Eucalyptus.
- Winner 1966 Children’s Book Council of Australia for Book of the Year
- Winner 1966 New York Times Book Review for Children’s Book of the Year
- Commended 1966 American Library Association Notable Book
In 1962 the hill area outside of Melbourne, where Ivan Southall lived, was devastated by bushfire. Houses were destroyed and lives were lost. Ash Road is a highly descriptive and intense action-based novel, no doubt influenced by Southall’s direct experiences with the harshness of rural life in Australia as well as the response and resilience of people to hardship. The book also hints at social and economic divisions in a small rural community.
Ash Road describes the way young people, in particular, grow and change as a result of dealing with the challenge of a wild fire. The main protagonists are described in realistic detail and develop along differing but apparent psychological profiles. Hills End (1962), which preceded Ash Road, was also a deliberately realistic novel that tracked the responses of a group of young people as they coped with the threat of flood in a rural area. Ivan Southall joins the likes of Australian writers, such as Colin Thiele, who broke new ground in Australian children’s literature as they began to write specifically for and about young people.
Historical context when the title was published
The 1960s in Australia was a time of rapid social and economic change. Adolescents in particular were embracing British and American pop culture and questioning authority and challenging traditional social values; all of which occurred against the backdrop of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Women were questioning their traditional role in the home and in wider society. Economically, Australian manufacturing and services industries were further developing providing employment opportunities for men and women in non-primary industries. Urbanisation was well underway with a consequent population drift from rural areas of Australia to the cities.