I’ve been reading a few memoirs recently, and this is the first of the reviews. I like memoirs: especially those written by Australian women.
‘The most interesting period in anyone’s life is the decade before we are born, …’
Jan Smith opens her memoir with an account of life in Eumundi (that’s in Queensland for we foreigners south of the border) during the 1930s. Actually, she starts earlier than that, wondering what her parents would have been doing, and would have thought, on 28 June 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated. It’s a good starting point. Life in much of Australia changed as a consequence. And I feel a connection as well: my grandfather was cutting cane in Queensland when the war was declared in 1914 and, being too short to enlist in Queensland, travelled back to Tasmania to join the AIF.
Jan herself was born in the 1930s, and provides a lively account of the times (and places) in which she lived. Memoirs can be tricky beasts: how does the memoirist decide what he or she will share? Sometimes I wanted more biographical details, but generally I just got caught up in the recounting of a life very different from those of my mother and of two close friends, all born around the same time. For me, that is the success of Jan’s memoir. While my mother (and my friends) were raising families and not participating in the paid workforce, Jan’s life took a different direction. Yes, that direction included marriage and motherhood, but has included writing.
Jan dropped out of the University of Queensland, worked as a cadet journalist for ‘The Courier Mail’, and then moved to Sydney and joined the magazine ‘Woman’s Day’. After three years, she married a staff member and was forced to resign. No married couples working together on ‘Woman’s Day’! So, for the past fifty years, Jan has been a freelance journalist. She has also written two novels ‘An Ornament of Grace’ (Sun Books, 1966) and ‘The Worshipful Company’ (Cassell, 1969). I’ve enjoyed reading Jan’s memoir and I’m going to see if I can track down copies of her novels.
I’d recommend Jan’s memoir to anyone interested in an account of life in regional Australia and beyond from the 1930s. Most women had fewer options and opportunities then, and I’ve enjoyed reading an account of life both within and beyond the constraints of domesticity. But it isn’t just Jan’s life that kept me turning pages, it is the way in which she writes about what she’s observed and experienced. It’s enjoyable, enlightening and interesting.
Note: My thanks to Jan Smith for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.