An American in Oz – Sara James

Would you credit this? ‘Mystifyingly a Red-bellied Black slithered its way up to our front door like a demented Avon lady and repeatedly beat its head against one of the glass panes…a deadly snake knocked on our front door.’

I’d believe it. Growing up I listened to tales my father told, as well as many from his mates, of Joe Blakes – so I’d believe it. My father and those of his ilk, back in their pomp, were bush-comfortable and saw plenty – and they wouldn’t tell porkies, or exaggerate, would they? Besides I once saw a copperhead do something pretty amazing – put the wind up me completely as far as those reptiles were concerned.

But Sara James, the Yank of ‘An American in Oz’, is a different kettle of fish. She’s a big city lass. Even if she, as correspondent for the US’s NBC Network, had been to some of the world’s most deadly war zones, nothing equipped her for the deadlies that exist on our island continent, nor the terror in the bush that Victoria’s Black Saturday fires engendered.

Country Living: Author Sara James

I first became aware of Sara James when she was profiled by ‘Australian Story’ in August last year. She fascinated me. Coming to terms with life in a new land would have been less arduous for her had she chosen one of our large littoral cities to swap the Big Apple for, but she and hubby opted for a tree-change up in the hills behind Yarra City. Soon she realised she was out of her depth. Her Aussie bush savvy partner was often away – and even he was flummoxed by the potential for disaster that that Saturday of gale driven inferno produced. Soon, though, she gathered around her a coterie of local friends and neighbours, together with the nearby parents of Andrew Butcher, the man from Down Under she fell in love with, so our Australian Yank learned to cope with the vicissitudes of the bush. It is fascinating reading Sara’s take on matters Oz, comparing it to life in her homeland – and she’s also seen a bit in her time. She witnessed conflicts in the Sudan and Somalia, was witness to terror declaring war on America, became mates with the Irwins before she arrived and of course, fell head over heels for her own suited Crocodile Dundee from Muckleford – a ‘blink and you’d miss it’ Victorian bush hamlet.

Added to all this, her second daughter was born with what the diagnosing doctor callously termed ‘a bad brain’. The cruelty of that moment was saved, as always, by a nurse – ‘I’ve looked at your little girl and she has bright eyes. Don’t give up.’ Nurses know, you know – and she didn’t – give up, our feisty heroine.

So part of the book informs on a different sort of journey – to put a name to what caused little Jacqueline’s mystery ailment. Finally, after many ups and downs, success comes. It turns out it is something called KCNQ2 – and they invent a delightful mnemonic to remember it by.

Sara gives us her opinion on the current inhumane refugee policy which she believes is ‘…way out of proportion to number of people begging for entry.’ Of course, it’s a given that she cannot fathom cricket, despite her hubby’s best efforts in educating her, nor can she make sense of Melbourne’s notorious hook turns. For a respected Emmy Award winning reporter her prose is nothing to write home about, but this reader was soon engrossed enough in her yarns for this to be of little consequence. The pages turned seamlessly and I was always pleased to get back to it after a break. Occasionally there’s a little ‘how wonderful am Iitis’, but that is a very minor irritation in a worthy tome. As an outsider’s view it is an ‘everyman’ effort, being none the less compelling for that. And if you’re raising a toddler who’s creating mayhem with the ‘terrible twos’ or ‘troublesome threes’, reading this would put it all into perspective.

Good on you Sara for your resilience in our country. Good on you for not being afraid to criticise your new land, as well as your old. And just good on you for your candour all round.

Sara James’ website =

Newspaper article on James’ life in Oz =

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