Since the publication of her autobiography, Sara Henderson has become a household name. There's barely a person in the country who doesn't know the now legendary story of how she saved her outback property from a million-dollar debt, hasn't heard about the philandering husband and the estrangement from her middle daughter Bonnie. But how much of what she writes is true and how much of it is fantasy?
Tired of being misrepresented in her mother's books, Bonnie decided to set the record straight and asked journalist Debi Marshall to write her real story. And the result? Well, not since Jaon Crawford's daughter wrote Mommy Dearest has such an icon been so well and truly smashed. But Bonnie's story, Her Father's Daughter, is much more than that. It's a celebration of a remarkable bushwoman, of her fierce strength and wild, irrepressible spirit, her deep respect for the land she once called home and her abiding love for her reprobate father.
Bonnie's mother hates Bullo River Station from the moment she lands on that million acres of red dust. And before long she comes to hate the manwho has brought her there too. Bonnie grows up in a household isolated from the rest of the world, in a place where every excess is indulged: 'Charles purposely cut the off from the outside world, and Sara was very often away. It was like living in Kenya in the 1930s; nothing was ruled out, there were no limits.'
Charles and Sara fight constantly and use the children as weapons against eachother. Bonnie is her father's favourite - his inheriting daughter - and Murray-Lee is her mother's. To this day the two sisters bear the scars of their parent's gamess - they still don't speak to eachother.
The one place Bonnie can escape the tenxion in the homestead is the bush and she comes to love and know the land as intimately as Old Mray, her Aboriginal companion. Bonnie has her father's indomitable spirit (doubtless what makes her mother so uncomfortable) and his willingness to tackle anything. She grows into adulthood as a superb horsewoman, pilot and cattlewoman. Wild and unruly, afraid of nothing, Bonnie is very different to her reserved mother, and the two grow further and further apart.
In her late teens Bonnie takes over the running of the station and gradually emerges from the years of financial instability. When a neighbouring property Charles owns with Gus Trippe, his childhood friend, is sols, the property becomes debt-free. 'Sara talks about being left with a million-dollar debt, but the truth is that there was no debt ... Sara sold Charles' yacht after he died ... and a gold mine in Western Australia ... She puts the sudden cash flow down to having a miraculous stock market win, but I've lived in the bush too long to believe that.'
Bonnie is by now utterly in love with flying and goes to Darwin to practice her aerobatics whenever she can fit it in to her hectic schedule at Bullo. It is in Darwin that she meets Arthur Palmer, a charismatic, intelligent and arrogant man - a replica of her father - and the two fall in love. Both Sara and Charles detest Arthur and this makes home life, already extremely tense, unbearable. 'The plain truth was that Daddy loathed him,' says Dannielle, Bonnie's younger sister. 'If he could, he would have put a hit on him. There's no question of that.'
On a trip to Queensland Arthur persuades Bonnie to see a specialist about her jaw which, incredibly, has been causing her intense pain for fifteen years. The specialist insists Bonnie be operated on immediately and she is forced to call Sara to tell her she won't be back at Bullo for the muster. Bonnie thinks her mother will be able to cope. In fact it is the beginning of the end of their relationship. Sara screams down the phone at her daughter that she must return, then tells Charles that she is refusing to come home for the muster, without mentioning anything about the operation. As a result, Charles give Bonnie an ultimatum - Bullo or Arthur.
Infuriated at being made to choose, Bonnie chooses Arthur, and effectively her relationship with Sara is over. The final nail in the coffin comes some years later when Bonnie's daughter Georgina is hovering between life and death in a Brisbane hospital. Bonnie, desperate for support, calls Sara to tell her. Sara's closing words to her frantic daughter are: 'You know Bonnie, you know you can;t call me just because you need something.'
When Charles dies, Sara doesn't even call Bonnie to let her know. Devastated by his death, Bonnie has further heartache when she is forced to sue her mother for wages due her and to testify against her in Gus Trippe's court case against Bullo (the truth behind these much publicised stories is fascinating).
But Bonnie is a survivor. Even when her marriage to Arthur fails, she oulls her life together and makes a home for herself and her three daughters on a property outside Darwin. Today she breeds horses there, runs cattle, mends fences, makes saddles ... all the things she once did on Bullo, the place her spirit still calls home.