Having been unavailable for several years, we are pleased to announce that the book At a Cost has now been reprinted.
Former Northern Territory Administrator, Ted Egan, AO, in 2005 compared Roy McFadyen’s book At a Cost to two other great Australian books – A Fortunate Life by Bert Facey, and Son of the Red Centre by Kurt Johannsen. ‘All three books are written by self-effacing men who encountered all forms of discrimination and exploitation in their lives, but rose above adversity to become owners of stories that deserve a prominent place in Australian literary and social history,’ Mr Egan said. ‘And many of Roy McFadyen’s photographs are truly historical. I hope that At a Cost gets the recognition and acclaim it deserves.’
‘There aren’t too many laughs in At a Cost. But contained within its pages, and augmented by Roy McFadyen’s magnificent archival photographs, is a most accurate portrayal of a sad period in Australian history.
‘Because he possesses basic and intrinsic talent, Roy McFadyen acquired the wherewithal firstly to survive, to accumulate skills, and then gradually to overcome the negatives in life and achieve success. He was given love and wonderful stability when he married Lola.’
In Roy’s own words, ‘When I was young I always asked the old people how things were done. Now – at least when it comes to computers – I have to ask the younger generation for advice. I may know what all of the components of my computer do, but I can’t get the hang of the keyboard and how to drive it. It seems that although I’ve gained many skills in life and work there’s always more to learn.
‘This book is about my life and work. It is also about the legacy of my parents’ actions in the 1920s; for their convenience I was put into orphanages for most of my early childhood. And then, although I tasted something of a ‘normal’ family life until was 15, I was again dismissed – into the hard times of the Depression. This enforced independence shaped my outlook. I saw hard work and doing things well as the way to cope in any situation. Cope I did, but eventually the emotional load I carried told on me.
‘From the age of 15, in the Mallee region of north-west Victoria, I ploughed and sowed, harvested and harrowed; east of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory I built stockyards and houses, sank wells and rode with cattle. With the war I used my hard-won mechanical skills in military aircraft maintenance, and post-war I set up my own motor garage. With the rise of light aircraft in the agricultural industries in the 1960s and ‘70s I established a flourishing aircraft maintenance business.
‘Along the way I met the most, and the least, generous of people. I fought against institutional corruption wherever I saw it and came to value the trust others put in me. I met my wife of 60 years and know the blessings of children and grandchildren. I worked with the poorest of Victorian and South Australian farmers and with the Central Australian Aborigines of the Arundta group and understand friendship … Over these last 25 years my family, friends, and my abiding fascination with machines and with photography have kept me company … My life has spanned the planning and finishing of the Adelaide to Darwin railway. I’ve seen horse-drawn tools give way to complex machinery and witnessed the coming of both radio and the internet. Amid these changes was has remained more or less a constant; finding a place in Australian society seems no easier for Aboriginal people than it did in the 1930s; and the effects of the institutionalisation of children (both white and black) and the abuses of children within the church are only now being revealed and acknowledged.
‘While the writing of this book has helped me to reconcile with my past, and may help others in similar circumstances, even now the good things in life come at a cost.’