I recently went to a good talk in the City of Sydney Library housed in our wonderful Customs House at Circular Quay. It was put on by the Jessie Street National Women’s Library which is happily housed in Harris Street, Ultimo. The Jessie Street Library, named in honour of Lady Street, feminist and campaigner for peace and human rights, part of the famous Street family dynasty, is thirty years old now. If you would like to make use of their material or offer yourself as a volunteer please consult their website: www.nationalwomenslibrary.org.au
The speaker was the much-admired author Nadia Wheatley who was talking about her new book named Her Mother’s Daughter. Nadia’s mother was an Army nurse who later worked for UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency) in Europe, so was intimately involved in the administration and migration of Displaced Persons after the Second World War. She did not marry until she was in her forties but did have two children. Unfortunately she died when Nadia was about 10 so this book has been a sort of detective trail following up on her many war-time letters. It was a very touching talk and I am greatly enjoying the book which amounts to a social history of women’s lives during the Cold War.
Nadia is best known for her books for children, including Five Times Dizzy & Dancing in the Anzac Deli (two stories about the adventures of kids in an inner-city neighbourhood which is now regarded as an Australian classic) as well as two tales telling Australian History for children and young adults, called My Place or The House that was Eureka. Her biography of another famous Australian writer, The Life and Myth of Charmian Clift, is also very successful and I have a signed copy on my shelf at home.
Let me recommend to you two fine, sane and sensible female writers, from the next generation. Mandy Sayer's recent book, Misfits & Me, is a collection of long essays about unusual people. Mandy’s own unusual childhood is recalled in Dreamtime Alice, which won the National Biography Award, describing her travels in America tap-dancing in the street while her jazz drummer father provided the backdrop. Last year she published Australian Gypsies: Their Secret History, which is very well received. She is married to writer and playwright Louis Nowra and they live in Kings Cross, opposite each other on the same road, happily apart and with their dogs Basil and Coco.
The other writer I want to suggest is Alice Pung, the child of Chinese parents who escaped from Kampuchea to lead an unusual and entrepreneurial life in Australia. Alice has written a first memoir called Unpolished Gem as well as Her Father’s Daughter plus a novel, Laurinda, a young adult novel about attending a girls’ high school, as well as On John Marsden. No doubt because of the last title she has ended up in Literary Criticism on Abbey’s shelves so you may well not find her at first. But she has a fascinating story to tell and tells it very well. Her latest book is Close to Home: Selected Writings where she muses on various episodes in the life of refugees.
Keep well, Eve
Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers