This book was one of my top five reads for 2017, one I’ve often since recommended, gifted, loaned and praised. The life story of Sandra Pankhurst is one which could easily be sensationalized, but instead it is a sensitive, thoughtful and deeply engrossing book which touches on the legacies of difficult childhood, Melbourne’s queer history, and the sheer world-building will of a woman’s shifting identity.
Before she was the successful founder of Specialized Trauma Cleaning Service Pty Ltd, Sandra grew up in a violent home. Assigned male at birth, her sex-reassignment surgery was one of the first performed in Australia. The years that followed in the nightclubs and brothels and cabaret venues could have left her burned out and embittered, but instead deepened her convictions that we all deserve to be listened to.
The chapters delving into Sandra’s present day job, cleaning up after nightmare domestic situations like hoarding, crime scenes and catastrophic squalor, are fascinating without being ghoulish. A many-dimensioned, skillfully constructed, compassionate memoir and a book deserving all its accolades.
The Trauma Cleaner was published by Text Publishing in October 2017. It won the Victorian Premier’s Literary award for Non-fiction 2018 and the Victorian Prize for Literature 2018, and was longlisted for the Indie Book Award for Non-fiction 2018.