Saturday, 17 June 2017
If you have in your family people over the age of 80 years, and wonder what planet they were born on, then I can recommend this book as a window to their world, and as a way to understand where the Australia you are living in now came from. The world we occupy is very different from their world, and this book - written by a woman who was born less than a century ago - not only shows you that world, but shows you why so much of our world is as it is.
Patsy Adam-Smith's Goodbye Girlie is a wonderful memoir - the sequel to her memories of childhood that were published in Hear the Train Blow.
It is too easy for people to paint a picture of a golden age in Australia's past - an age that really only shone for people in the upper levels of society. The minority who lived well before and between the world wars were some of the men, and a handful of women - for the rest, life was somewhere between tough and abyssmal. Patsy enlisted as a nurse's aid and did so to escape the boredom, poverty, and repression - social, economic, and religious - that was the life of a woman in so much of Australia. Many other women did so for the same reasons, and more than a few of the men who enlisted also saw a brighter future for themselves if they could get into uniform and out of the grinding life allowed to "the lower classes" - if you are over 60 then you grew up listening to and interacting with older relatives who had lived that sort of life. If you are under 30, these books are an opportunity to hear stories that are otherwise being forgotten, and lost to posterity.
Such harsh conditions still exist in pockets of Australia, even today - and as for the wider world, well, I am truly glad that Australia is where I live. Perfect we are not, but when you let Patsy's stories wash over you, you understand just how fortunate a country we are. When you have time to sit and read for a few hours, I can recommend any of her books, just as I can recommend Ion Idriess, for anyone wanting to understand those times that were not really so long ago.