One Life, Two Stories: New book celebrates the life of Nancy de Vries

Nancy de Vries

A new book co-authored by Associate Professor Jane Mears from the University of Western Sydney tells the true story of one of Australia’s most respected indigenous health campaigners, Nancy de Vries.

One Life, Two Stories: Nancy de Vries’ Journey Home details the events of Nancy’s life – from her forced separation from her mother when she was 18 months old, to becoming the public face of Stolen Generation in 1997.

Nancy spent her childhood and adolescent years moving between foster homes. As an adult, she studied nursing at UWS and became one of the University's first Indigenous graduates in 1988, at the age of 56.

Prior to her death in 2006, Nancy was respected as a health professional who spoke widely on issues affecting the Aboriginal community, including social issues, health and education.

The book begins with Nancy’s speech in 1997, as she acknowledged the State Government's apology to the Aboriginal people of Australia in a ceremony at the NSW Legislative Assembly.

The following chapters are the result of more than ten years of work by authors Gaynor MacDonald, Anna Nettheim and Jane Mears, from the UWS School of Social Sciences and Psychology.

“This book had its origins in guest lectures that Nancy gave at UWS in the 1990s. Nancy was a graduate of UWS and after she graduated, she came back every semester, year after year, to talk to students,” says Associate Professor Mears.

“The lectures she gave were unforgettable, powerful and poignant. She would have her audience moved to tears one minute and then laughing with her the next.”

Associate Professor Mears says work on One Life, Two Stories began in 1998, when she and Dr Gaynor Macdonald began to record these inspirational lectures.

“Driving her home one day, I suggested that she put all these lectures together and write a book. At first, she was distinctly unenthusiastic, however, agreed to think about it if I worked on it with her,” she says.

“Nancy was a great talker. We spent many, many hours, chatting and recording and collecting material. In the end we had more than 60 hours of recorded recollections and stories.”

One Life, Two Stories: Nancy de Vries’ Journey Home is described as an in-depth insight into the impact of social policies and what it means to hear stories of trauma.

An early version of the story, published under the working title of Ten Hours in a Lifetime, was launched at UWS in 2005 by former Prime Minister, the Hon. Gough Whitlam AC QC.

The title was changed to One Life, Two Stories in reference to Nancy’s wish, of wanting a book “not about me, but about and for all Australians.”

The book was launched at the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney, on Tuesday 12th June 2012. Copies can be purchased from Sydney Univeristy Press.


13 June 2012

Contact: Danielle Roddick, Senior Media Officer