Friday, December 09, 2011

Surviving Maggie by John Fingleton

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Publication Date: 1st Sept 2011
Pages: 272
Book Source: HarperCollins Australia & NetGalley

Synopsis: My father was no ordinary man and his was no ordinary life …

Watching Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush portray his father in the film Swimming Upstream inspired John Fingleton to uncover the story no one had told, of his father′s mysterious early life - and what made Harold the extraordinary man he became.

Nothing could have prepared him for what he discovered. Harold spent his early childhood on the streets foraging for food for himself and his sister and being beaten for his trouble by his alcoholic mother. Then, at eleven, Harold was removed to a state orphanage in Brisbane, where the treatment he and others endured haunted him forever.

From abused child to rebellious orphan, Harold Fingleton played many roles in his life - larrikin street fighter, gifted sportsman, prisoner, alcoholic, football coach to a bunch of street kids, even a murder suspect - but, most importantly, a man transformed by the love of a strong woman into a father determined his children would have the opportunities he never had.

A powerful true story of love, betrayal and redemption, Surviving Maggie will stay with you long after the last page.

How many of you remember the 2003 film Swimming Upstream starring Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis? "Write your own book if you're not happy" challenged Tony Fingleton, author & film co- producer. This was John Fingleton's impetus for telling the untold story of his father Harold's early life, hopefully providing some counterbalance to Harold's portrayal in Swimming Upstream.

Harold Fingleton's childhood is a pitifully sad account; after years of abuse at the hands of his mother, Maggie, Harold is taken into state care at the age of ten where he endures further neglect, hunger, harsh discipline and abuse.

"Idle hands are the devil's tools" was a popular adage among the nuns.

My heart broke for Harold during his brief release from St Vincent Orphanage on Christmas Eve 1920; at 1am on Christmas morning his mother was arrested for drunkeness and foul language and sent to Boggo Road Gaol, dashing Harold's hopes of a 'family' Christmas and a new beginning. Elation quickly turned to resignation and bitterness as Harold was returned to the orphanage on Christmas day. He was released as a ward at the age of 14.

I was caught up in Surviving Maggie, not only in the emotion of Harold's dreadful childhood but being a local Brisbane-ite many of the locations and points of interest mentioned are familiar to me.

Surviving Maggie gives readers an understanding of how Harold's early life molded the man he became, you learn not only of his faults, flaws and weaknesses but of his strengths, loyalties and love. John doesn't excuse his father's behaviour but as the story moves into Harold's adult years much of the emotion seems to be lost in the somewhat stark recounting of facts and circumstances that shape the man. Despite his attempt to set the record straight on the previous one-sided depiction of Harold, John doesn't sugarcoat his father's alcoholism or the impact on his family.

Through police reports, government records, his Aunt Mollie, his mother Dora, family and friends, a son pieces together a harrowing story of the father he loved with all his heart.


  1. Wow!! This sounds really good!! I don't remember that movie.... I will have to check them both out! :):):):):):):):):):):)

  2. Can't say I remember that movie at all..must look into it

  3. I think it rings a bell, but I'm probably mis-remembering. What a moving read. thanks Teddy for the review.

  4. Hey :)

    Just wanted to let you know your package for You Give= We Give arrived yesterday!
    Thanks again for donating :)

    Rachel @ The Rest Is Still Unwritten

  5. I have not watched this movie. I couldn't imagine his life. I am interested in watching the movie and reading his story!

  6. I've not seen the movie, but it looks fascinating so I'll have to look for it.


Thanks for taking the time to leave some comment love, I'm a 'comment back' kinda girl. Don't forget to check the 'Notify me' box