The Trauma Cleaner (Sarah Krasnostein, Text)
Sandra Pankhurst was adopted through the Catholic Church in the 1950s by a Melbourne couple who would prove to be horrendously abusive parents. Driven out of home by the age of 17, she would go on to be many things: husband, father, drag queen, sex worker, gender reassignment patient, funeral director and wife, as well as the titular trauma cleaner. Written with sensitivity, insight and warmth, The Trauma Cleaner captures Sandra’s resilience as well as her connection with the people that she works with through her Specialised Trauma Cleaning Services company. Through Sandra’s work, we gain a privileged insight into the homes of people affected by trauma and witness the astounding empathy with which Sandra approaches each case, be it hoarding, suicide or drug overdose. Sandra’s search for belonging and quest to become truly herself are profoundly moving and her fortitude is admirable, though not always wholly sympathetic. Her failing memory makes her a somewhat unreliable narrator, but writer Sarah Krasnostein has pieced together a compelling history through careful research and interviews. The Trauma Cleaner is no ordinary trauma narrative: we see how the infliction of multiple traumas has left this fascinating woman uniquely placed to restore order among the despair of others, and it is with similar care that Krasnostein has produced this book.
Portia Lindsay is the general manager of the Mudgee Readers’ Festival