A Bit of Ruth Park- Australian Writer

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D’Arcy Niland and Ruth Park

My first book of 2020 is from an Australian female writer of the past, Ruth Park. The book is A Fence Around the Cuckoo, her autobiography of the first 25 years of her life. The remaining years are in a sequel entitled Fishing in the Styx, which I own but have not yet read. Bill Holloway of the AustralianLegend blog is hosting an Australian Women’s Writer week in January (here). I won’t have time to read a lot of the Gen 3 AWWs by mid January but this book qualifies.

Ruth Park was born in New Zealand in 1917 and died in 2010 at the age of 93. Part I of her biography details her first 25 years living in the north island of New Zealand with her large extended family in poverty during the war and depression years. She moved to Sydney in her early 20s where she remained the rest of her life.

She always knew from a very young age she wanted to write. Her parents struggled to ever meet her expectations because of their poverty. Her mother was one of six girls and a couple of brothers raised by Ruth’s grandmother and grandfather. They feature a lot in this story and I enjoyed hearing about their life of squabbles and affection.  Ruth lived with a couple of them from time to time when things got too bad.

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1992 first published

Ruth didn’t have any access to books at all until she was in her teens. Books weren’t available and neither was paper upon which to write. She talks of one of her uncles bringing home some forms from his office job, that were blank on the back and she thought it was Christmas. She coveted the paper and wrote every chance she got. If the desire to write is genetic she certainly had the gene for it. Her desire was strong.

The book details the type of work her parents and grandparents did, the description of the homes she lived in. Her father had done pretty good until the depression came, he couldn’t work and they lost their home after declaring bankruptcy. The ensuing years were very tough. It wasn’t until WWII when things began to pick up a bit.

I enjoyed hearing about her mother’s seamstress skills and her relationships with her sisters.

Ruth was greatly influenced by one of the nuns where she attended primary school at St. Benedicts.  The nun spent a great deal of time with her perfecting her writing skills, working her harder than the other students as she saw Ruth’s potential. As Ruth approached high school age the Sister helped her get a full scholarship for the rest of her school years.  I felt excited for her at that point, but sadly the family had to move away due to their financial situation and Ruth never got to take it up. I really felt for her.  She was still trying to find books to read without success. Her mother was supportive and wanted her to continue her education but was unable to help her.

Eventually Ruth got a job for the Star newspaper in Auckland, writing in the children’s section. At that time there were sections in newspapers for children of several pages which Ruth loved in her own childhood, if she could get her hands on a paper. During her time at the Star she realises how lowly paid female copy writers were compared to male writers. Most males didn’t believe there was any place for a woman on a newspaper. She was groundbreaking on that front eventually becoming a journalist.

She also met a man from Sydney who worked for newspapers there and they began an uncomfortable pen pal relationship. I say uncomfortable as she thought him a bit arrogant and he was keener to be with her than her with him. Her upbringing was very sheltered and she was also quite an independent child and wanted to remain so because of her own goals in life.

Eventually she moves to Sydney when she is 22 years old as she is offered work on a newspaper there. She learned that women were paid the same as men in copy editing and there were more opportunities.  Her relationship with her pen pal D’Arcy Niland, also a writer, developed more and they married not long after she arrived in Sydney.

I found the book interesting as I saw another side of New Zealand indigenous life, the depression years of the 1930s as well as life during the two world wars. I admired her tenacity and independence in staying focused on her goals throughout her young life. Nothing distracted her mentally. The circumstances ruling her life then were so tough.

As far as autobiographies go I really enjoyed this one. I’d like to read more of her books of which she wrote many during her lifetime.

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I also began the diaries mentioned in the last post as it’s the first of January.  I opened my own diary and loved seeing all the blank pages waiting to be filled. What will this year be like?

I thought as I read these diaries during the year I’ll add excerpts that I enjoy from different periods of time into some posts.

From A Traveller’s Year: “…in the knowledge that no one pines for me anywhere on earth, that there is no place where I am being missed or expected. To know that is to be free and unencumbered, a nomad in the great desert of life where I shall never be anything but an outsider”  Isabelle Eberhardt, Diary. 1900. 

I’d like to know more of Isabelle’s life. Until next time…..Screenshot 1

The Cherry Picker’s Daughter by Kerry Reed-Gilbert

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14 week old Ollie after a day of chasing bubbles in the yard and attending Puppy Play School.

The past three months or so have been so incredibly busy I have called a complete strike from now until the new year.  I’m calling a halt to all events that aren’t absolutely necessary. We are enjoying spending time with Little Ollie and I want to devote the upcoming summer months to training him.

As he has afternoon naps each day, I have been able to get some reading in. The first book I have just finished is the wonderful story The Cherry Picker’s Daughter. This memoir begins in her childhood and goes up until her later life. She writes of her family history that is tragic and her childhood growing up with such a large extended family. The story waivers between tragedy and joy and it is a tribute to Mummy, the older sister of her father who is incarcerated for killing her mother when she was only three months old. This is her family’s story and  she was adamant it would be told.  The day after she was satisfied the manuscript of this book was finally ready for publication she passed away.

From the back cover of the book:

“This is the story of Kerry Reed-Gilbert, daughter of Kevin Gilbert, famous Aboriginal activist, writer, painter and actor. Told in the child’s voice and in the vernacular of her Mob, she speaks of love and loss, of dispossession and repeated dislocation. Kerry’s account highlights the impact of life as an Aboriginal state ward living under the terror of the Protection Laws. Despite this, she paints a picture of hard work and determination, with family unity giving them the strength and dignity to continue. 

Her father’s sister; whom she always called ‘Mummy’ raised his two children along with hers and others within the extended family. The book is a tribute to this truly remarkable woman; their tower of strength, love and selflessness. 

cherry pickerA tribute to the late Kerry Reed-Gilbert given by Melissa Lucashenko at the launch of Aunt Kerry’s memoir, The Cherry Picker’s Daughter at the Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane on 16b September, 2019 can be read here for much better information than I could give this wonderful woman justice.(read here)

I am going to the launch of this book at Fuller’s Bookshop in Hobart tomorrow evening by Jim Everett-puralia meenamatta.  I am really looking forward to it.

I could never do this book credit by trying to review it so I will leave you with what is here and the link to her memorial. I will say I couldn’t put it down. It’s a grim yet uplifting history of this Aboriginal family and yet again it is one of many stories that bluejumperpeople need to be told. I hope it is widely read.