Jennifer (JC-S)'s Reviews > A Wealth Of Women: Australian Women's Lives From 1788 To The Present

A Wealth Of Women by Alison Alexander
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it was amazing
bookshelves: australian-womens-writers-challenge

‘What has life been like for Australian women?’

I picked up a copy of this book, purely by chance, and started looking at the hundred or so black and white pictures and photographs included. One photograph in particular – of a pioneer family outside their bush hut – caught my attention. Who were these people? How successful were their ventures? How did families fare in such conditions? I kept looking at the photographs, and then, intrigued started to read the text.

There are eleven chapters in this book: the majority are by Alison Alexander, the two about the experience of Indigenous women are by Prue Torney-Parlicki. The book covers the lives of ordinary Australian women from 1788 to 2000 (the book was published in 2001).

What could possibly be interesting about the lives of ordinary Australian women? Well, quite a lot as it happens. To try to understand a society, I think it is necessary to understand the people within it, how individual domestic issues are managed, how lives were lived. Most histories focus on a bigger picture, on public affairs, political issues, economic matters. This history focusses on women – sometimes as groups, such as Indigenous women in 1788, who watched the First Fleet arrive – and sometimes as individuals. Within the book, throughout this period, hard work emerges as a constant theme. As Alison Alexander points out, most women married and had an average of seven children – at least until the 1870s. While the birth rate started to fall then, the really big changes in women’s lives did not occur until after World War II. Some of these changes were a consequence of inventions which made lives easier for some women while reducing the traditional employment options (such as domestic service) for others. Other changes were a consequence of the loss of so many men during the two world wars: fewer men, fewer marriages as well as changes to employment prospects.

All of this is brought to life through the anecdotes shared by contributors to this book. Individuals remembering the struggles of their mothers, grandmothers and other women, the changes brought about as battles for political and legal equality were fought and (sometimes) won. My own memory is of one of my bosses being angered by equal pay: ‘men should get paid more, they are stronger, and have families to maintain’. I wonder what he would have thought of maternity leave?

This is a book that invites you to think about the ways in which women’s lives have changed since 1788. For example, there is a reference to the child-rearing rules of Doctor Frederic Truby King. My maternal grandmother had a copy of ‘Mothercraft’ by Mary Truby King, which she bought on my mother’s first birthday in 1934. It was amongst her prized possessions, and I’ve kept it. Let me quote a sentence: ‘ A real Truby King baby, then, is one whose mother brings it up strictly according to the Truby King system —a baby who is completely breast fed until the ninth month and then weaned slowly on to humanised milk, with a gradual introduction of solid foods as described in this book.’ I suspect that my grandmother took refuge in the Truby King system: her first child died in 1931 when he was two days old, and her only other child was my mother. Times, and child rearing methods, have changed.

Some famous women are mentioned in this book, but it is mostly about ordinary women.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Some of this is history I knew, but much of it is new to me. I especially liked the snapshots: five two page timelines touching on food, health, fashion, education and inventions.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Reading Progress

February 3, 2016 – Shelved
February 3, 2016 – Shelved as: australian-womens-writers-challenge
February 4, 2016 – Started Reading
February 15, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by T.S. (new) - rated it 1 star

T.S. Flynn Purely by chance?


message 2: by Jennifer (JC-S) (last edited Oct 27, 2016 09:43PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jennifer (JC-S) Yes, purely by chance. I was browsing the bookshelves, looking for something to read, and decided to read this book. I've read four of Alison Alexander's books so far.


message 3: by T.S. (new) - rated it 1 star

T.S. Flynn Read four of her books? You must be a masochist.


message 4: by Jennifer (JC-S) (last edited Oct 29, 2016 03:27PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jennifer (JC-S) Theo wrote: "Read four of her books? You must be a masochist." ;-) Sometimes my interests and her books coincide.


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