Elena Govor, My Dark Brother, Sydney, 2000
National Biography Award nomination
Up in the Patagonian mountains
...The Illins chose land to the south of the Welsh colony, in the Corcovado valley just at the foot of the Andes, which was abundant with water. Nature in its unspoiled might and beauty brought peace to Nicholas’s tormented soul. To the west rose mountain chains with snow-white tops and several volcanoes. The steep slopes were covered with the ancient trees of Araucania — cedars and bamboo groves mixed with beeches — and in autumn would flame red and yellow. Mountain streams, waterfalls, and glacial lakes with mirror-like emerald water contributed to the enchantment. Later this picturesque belt of forests and lakes on the eastern mountain slopes would become known as ‘The Argentine Switzerland’ and nowadays parts of it are declared national parks. But for the Illins their immediate preoccupation was how to survive in this wilderness.
Nicholas with his young sons built a hut — in winter it was nearly as cold here as in Russia. Then they bought some horses, cattle and sheep, established a vegetable garden and orchard and started their pioneering life full of adventures. The only thing Nicholas did not have to worry about here was his younger children growing up into walking dummies, hidebound and conventional. Life on the frontier provided them with perfect opportunities to develop their potential in a natural environment. As for schooling, he himself taught them reading and writing, and studied Russian literature and history with them, both from the democratic point of view. A local teacher contributed to the Spanish side of their education. The sons, both sharing Nicholas’s aspiration for justice, grew up different — Leandro, an extrovert, was always on the move, rushing outside, into the wide world; while the more sentimental and quiet Romelio, an introvert, mostly stayed at home with the family. As for Ara (Ariadna), she had no other examples but her brothers, and she grew up a real frontier tomboy — different from them all, though.