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Review: The Banksia House Breakout by James Roxburgh

on September 24, 2021

The Banksia House Breakout
James Roxburgh
Ventura Press
2021, 315p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from the publisher/}: When Ruth Morris is moved into Banksia House by her workaholic son Michael, she is eighty-one years young, mourning her loss of independence, and missing her best friend Gladys terribly.

So when she learns Gladys is dying a state over in Brisbane, Ruth is determined to say goodbye. Enlisting the help of her fellow residents, Ruth makes a daring departure from Banksia House alongside renowned escape-artist Keith, and her formidable new friend Beryl.

The journey from Sydney is far from straightforward, featuring grimy hotels, hitchhiking, and a mild case of grand theft. This unlikely trio finds themselves on the trip of a lifetime, where new connections blossom amidst the chaos. But the clock is ticking and Gladys awaits – will they make it across the border in time?

In this joyous and captivating read, debut author James Roxburgh delivers a heart-warming tale that will have you cheering for Ruth from beginning to end.

There’s definitely a trend towards books with older protagonists at the moment. This month alone I had 3 for review. I’ve not read a lot of books narrated by people of this age – Ruth is 81, a widow and has just been basically forced by her son Michael to sell her home of 50+ years and enter the Banksia House Retirement Home. She has a little bit of a rough time settling in and when she hears that her best friend of a lifetime is on borrowed time 12 hours north in Brisbane, Ruth is desperate to get to her to say goodbye. But with her son too busy with work and dismissive of her concerns, it’s up to Ruth to take matters into her own hands and what ensues is a crazy road trip north.

One of the reasons I was looking forward to this one is because I know that stretch of coast so well. I’ve lived in Sydney, Newcastle and Port Macquarie and we spent most holidays of my childhood, driving to the Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast. The roads have improved over the years and it’s a much easier drive now than it was back when I was a child but it’s still gruelling, especially for people in their 80s, when there’s only one driver.

It’s a very…..incident packed road trip and I’ll admit that at times, I found it to be just…too many things happening in such a period of time. The humour wasn’t necessarily my sort of humour although there’ll be plenty of people that enjoy the hijinks the elderly people get up to. It namechecks some lovely places along the coast, such as Forster and Coffs Harbour (mentions to the Big Banana and Marine Conservation Centre) as well as places like Yamba and Byron Bay. There’s a bit of a detour out west inadvertently after a wrong turn at what has to be the biggest round-a-bout in the world (seriously, how did that happen, haha, there’s a huge difference between the road they should’ve taken and the one they did).

But where I think this book shines is the way it looks at agency and how it can be stripped from the elderly. Even in the cases where the reasoning behind it is not necessarily malicious and that the person who is granted Power of Attorney, etc, believes they are doing the right thing it can be incredibly limiting and crushing on. Particularly when the POA uses the excuse of protecting them from themselves, even when they’ve shown no indication that they might be deteriorating in mental ability to think for themselves.

This is what happens to Ruth. She does have a fall and so her son believes that the best thing to do is to sell her home in Ryde and put her in a nursing home where she can move through the levels of care as required. This is against what Ruth wants but Michael is far too busy and stressed about his own life to listen and her other son lives overseas and is happy to go along with what Michael has suggested. Not only is he oblivious or uninterested in how Ruth feels about moving and how much she misses the idea of her house, he’s not happy to facilitate her going to see her oldest friend when she learns that he’s dying and then he deliberately obstructs her when Ruth takes matters into her own hands.

I think the thing that concerned me was that someone like Ruth, should be allowed to come and go as she pleased. She’s still physically and mentally healthy – the idea of her “running away/escaping” from the nursing home seemed wrong somehow. She should’ve been allowed to go out any time she liked, not kept locked inside. I didn’t realise she was in an area that specified such a high level of restriction, considering her health. What would’ve been more suitable for her would’ve been an independent living apartment or something, where she could’ve moved into the nursing home later when she was perhaps not so mobile and required more assistance. But this was another thing Michael seemed unwilling to consider, wanting to wash his hands of anything. He’d “done the right thing” by placing her somewhere to be looked after, ignoring the fact that this was not what Ruth wanted. And when she tries to explain things to him, he is uninterested and frustrated with her lack of just….doing what he tells her. Both my parents have filled POA roles for their own parents and it’s made me realise what an important role it is and how it can be abused, both blatantly and deliberately as well as inadvertently as well. In particular, Michael’s opinion on what POA meant about Ruth’s money, was very wrong to me.

Although most of the action actually takes place away from the nursing home, this book also includes the staffing issues and also how elderly people can be vulnerable even within a place that should be safe to them. There’s been a lot about nursing home care lately, especially with the Royal Commission into Aged Care and the impact that the corona outbreak had on the community also. The decision for a family member to go into one wouldn’t be easy and there’s a lot to consider with unfortunately, cost being one of the biggest determining factors. These days, many aged care homes are run for profit as businesses, leading to the inadequate staff to patient ratios and sometimes indifferent care. It’s also a low paying industry as well with a high turnover of staff.

I enjoyed this – a lot of humour on the surface but there’s a lot of serious undertones that I feel could provoke many conversations about how family members can and should be cared for in their older years and how we might be able to do better.


Book #162 of 2021

3 responses to “Review: The Banksia House Breakout by James Roxburgh

  1. Trin Carl says:

    Living in Sydney must have been amazing. Hey this is my first time to your blog. Hope to exchange book ideas with you.

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