In 1979, 22-year-old Veronica Caven flew from Melbourne with two friends from art school for a gap year adventure. They planned to travel across Asia, perhaps to Europe, but had no firm itinerary. After six weeks, Veronica and her friends separated, but she carried on, exploring India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal on her own. The diary she kept during this transformative time has been adapted into Australian Women Can Walk. Set during the final days of the hippie trail, this is a story of resilience and self-discovery with side dishes of naivety, anxiety, risk, grit, romance and humour. In Part 1 she was relaxing on a houseboat in Kashmir but also exploring the town, canals and hills, including an intense trek up to a Himalayan glacier. In Part 2 she moves down into the south and coastal regions of India and Sri Lanka. In Part 3 she treks in Nepal, takes a pilgrimage to Rishikesh, the “yoga capital of the world”, checks out the scene on Freak Street in Kathmandu and visits more north Indian cities. Veronica’s travels introduce her to many wondrous sights and interesting people. And the young woman who began her journey as a sheltered student with no shortage of existential questions grows in confidence and courage as she experiences life in one of the most challenging yet rewarding and varied environments on earth. With some of the author’s photographs and sketches included, Australian Women Can Walk offers an immersive experience of an extraordinary place and time. At this present time in history, we now find ourselves in great need of inspiration, renewal, and meaningful connections. There are so many beautiful places and people in the world, and this book reminds us of it.
Throughout, Caven Aldous finds her passion for travel and exploration intertwined with her aspirations as an artist; she beautifully mirrors these with the unexpected education she gleans from reading philosophical literature during her journey. She emphasizes the beauty of meeting strangers along the way, feeling “a wonderful closeness with them at times,” and shares her practice of Transcendental Meditation, which guided her through tough days on the road, aided in her decision making, and offered peace when she felt alone or overwhelmed.
Caven Aldous’s memory is remarkable, and the retelling of her travels intricately detailed. Readers will be able to easily imagine the far-flung settings and what traveling alone must have been like for a young woman in the late 1970s. As she explores the world, she also explores her ambition, anxiety, excitement, and weariness in subtle yet wholly human ways, while also threading crucial historical and cultural insight and context into her storytelling. Caven Aldous’s Aussie upbringing paves the way for her gap-year adventure, and the traveling methods of the era prove fascinatingly different from today, lending novelty for readers of younger generations. Fans of globetrotting and mid- to late-twentieth-century history will thoroughly relish this vintage travelogue.
Takeaway: A richly inviting diary-style memoir of a young woman’s trek through India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.
Great for fans of: Barbara Savage’s Miles From Nowhere, Dean Nicholson’s Nala’s World.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: B+