Tag Archives: Pamela Freeman

Freeman & Beer’s Amazing Australian Women

Pamela Freeman and Sophie Beer,  Amazing Australian Women: Twelve Women Who Shaped History (Lothian 2018)

When I ran into the lovely Pamela Freeman in an Annandale cafe the other day, just down the road from where I used to live, she insisted on interrupting her lunch to dash off, and returned to present me with a copy of Amazing Australian Women, which she inscribed to my almost-one-year-old granddaughter.

The granddaughter won’t be ready for this book for another couple of years, but I couldn’t just leave it to wait for her. Besides, I’ve been a fan of Pamela’s writing for young readers (and old) for years.

The book is what it says on the lid: twelve spreads, each featuring an amazing Australian woman. It’s a terrific list, presented with a keen eye for the memorable detail, and decorated by Sophie Beer with wit and charm.

I’m willing to bet that none of my readers, asked to draw up a list of twelve Australian women who have changed history, would come up with exactly the twelve women in this book. I’ll bet the lists wouldn’t be identical even if I tightened the brief and asked you to include women who represent ‘warriors, artists, business owners, scientists, singers, politicians, actors, athletes, adventurers activists and innovators’ (to quote the back cover), and then tightened it again to say your list must include at least one Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander woman, at least one other person from a non-European background, and at least one person with a disability.

The two absences that surprised me were Cathy Freeman and Mary McKillop. At least four of the inclusions are new names to me. Of the ones I knew about, none felt Wikipediated. Did you know for instance that Mary Reibey, when she was thirteen, dressed in boy’s clothes to ride the horse she was then accused of stealing? And did you know who discovered the cause of the Northern and Southern Lights? 

If you want to know who made it onto Pamela’s list, whether for your own enlightenment and entertainment, or to quarrel with her decisions, you probably don’t have to wait for the author to give you a copy. Once you’ve checked it out, you might well consider buying it as a gift for a young girl (or boy, because what boy doesn’t want to know about amazing women?)

Amazing Australian Women is the nineteenth book I’ve read for the 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Pamela Hart’s Soldier’s Wife

Pamela Hart, The Soldier’s Wife (Hachette Australia 2015)

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Romance novels really aren’t my thing, but Pamela Hart, as Pamela Freeman, has written a number of magnificent books in other genres, so I stepped out of my comfort zone to read her first venture into the world of historical romance. Also, it’s the centenary of the landing at Gallipoli, and in our house the schmaltzy, revisionist jingoism in the media has made it close to impossible to attend to the occasion. James Kent’s movie of Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth was a big crack in that frozen wall. The Soldier’s Wife promised another.

The book  delivers on both fronts: as a story of the WWI home front, and as a all stops out romance.

Ruby has had a blissful honeymoon week with her tall handsome husband Jimmy, and then one last day in town before he is shipped off to Gallipoli, where they know he is going into harm’s way. (If I was being true to the period and to the book, I’d call her Mrs Hawkins, but after all I’ve been though with her, she’s Ruby to me.) Hailing from Burke, Ruby lodges with the friend of a friend in Annandale, a Sydney suburb, and gets a job as bookkeeper in a timber yard – the boss of the yard has a son who is an officer in the same battalion as Jimmy, which accounts for his willingness to take on a woman.

And it goes from there: Ruby lives in constant terror that the next telegram to be delivered will bring news of Jimmy’s death; she negotiates the perils of the all male workplace, where she fends off sexual predation and high-toned disapproval; having so briefly enjoyed married life and then left, she is strongly drawn to the handsome, muscular foreman of the yard; bit by bit she takes on more responsibility in the workplace and her relationship with her landlady becomes more solid.

I was surprised by some of the plot twists, and though in retrospect they were completely logical I don’t want to spoil them for you. I’ll just say that we are not spared the harrowing experience of learning of a loved one’s injury and death in battle; and the changing balance in power relationships between men and women that was brought about by the war is made painfully real, along with the ghastly difficulty in communication between those who went off to the unreal nightmare world of war and those who stayed behind in the all too real struggles at home.

The main characters are all Catholic – attending St Brendan’s in Annandale, where I have been myself more than once – and the moral world of the book is that of early 20th century Australian Irish Catholicism. I love this, because so much historical fiction shies away from such religious dimension, yet it is so important to an understanding of the times. It also adds a particular kind of intensity to Ruby’s temptations with the foreman – and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that I desperately wanted her to yield to temptation, and that the matter stayed unresolved until almost the last page.

The Soldier’s Wife is being promoted as an ideal Mother’s Day gift. I think my mother would have liked it, though she might have been unsettled by some of the discreetly worded but nevertheless explicit sexual references. I doubt if my father would have read it, but he would have enjoyed it too. It’s a good yarn. You care about the characters. And there’s the blessed relief of being able to think about Gallipoli through the experience of life-sized, complex people without the background noise of rascally patriotism.

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The Soldier’s Wife is the ninth book I’ve read for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Pamela’s Full Circle

Pamela Freeman, Full Circle (Orbit 2009)

Did I mention in my post about James Tiptree Jr’s Meet Me at Infinity that it’s full of quotable bits? Here’s Tiptree on High Fantasy, in 1975, a year or so before she was outed as a woman:

I’ve been reading a mess of Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Wm Morris, and T. H. White. And I find extraordinary the unspoken assumption that the greatest boon a people can achieve is – a king. The King Has Returned! Well, perhaps in the feudal state of things one can understand some of that. But I suspect it is largely a male contribution.

It led me on to think that women are supposed to be more dependent, to slide easily into and adjust gratefully to domination. […] But who are the real dependents? Who insist on a captain, a boss, a Great Leader? Who have evolved lunatic systems of authoritarianism in every known activity except maybe solo farming? Who gratefully accept being beaten up and then faithfully follow the bully?

Three guesses. And don’t say guppies.

Full CircleI don’t for a minute believe Pamela Freeman intended the Castings Trilogy, of which Full Circle is the final book, as a feminist tract; I’d be mildly surprised if she’s read that bit from Tiptree; I’m sure she shares Tiptree’s bemusement at the persistence of monarchist ideology in fantasy; and there are moments in the narrative where I found myself thinking subliminally of guppies – though some of the characters who inspired that response were able to grow beyond their grateful adjustment to domination.

I ought to declare that Pamela is a friend of mine, in the facebook sense as well as the english-language sense. So I’ll content myself with saying that this is a most satisfactory conclusion to the trilogy: there is an army of the dead, the living world as we know it is under threat of extermination, the web of comradeship and betrayal, love and loss, heroism and cowardice, filial piety well placed and misplaced, vengeance and forgiveness, violence and tenderness, epic sweep and intimate gesture is as complex as anyone could hope for. As an added fillip, things happen in the climactic scenes that make one want to go back to the start and graze one’s way through the whole 1000+ pages.

Satisfied though I am, I’m nevertheless pleased to know that a further, stand-alone novel set in this same world is nearing the end of its first draft.