Agnes Nieuwenhuizen reviews 'Australian Lives: An intimate history' by Anisa Puri and Alistair Thomson

Meet Ruth Apps, born 1926 and gleefully proud of her Irish convict ancestry. Her father lost the use of an arm in Gallipoli and was also mentally affected. During World War II he slept in the yard to avoid bombs. Ruth won a scholarship to a selective girls’ high school in Sydney when few girls were educated beyond primary school. She did well and gained work as a stenographer. She loved going to the ‘Saturday arvo flicks’ and family camping beach holidays. She met a railway guard on a train, but was lectured by her mother because ‘Nice girls don’t go out with boys who are not introduced.’ Despite the lack of an introduction, Ruth married Bill and they lived happily. She left work when she fell pregnant. Their first child died shortly after being born with ‘multiple deformities’. There were no scans available in those days. Subsequently, Ruth and Bill had three healthy and successful daughters. Ruth returned to work when her youngest started school and was called a ‘fallen woman’ by some for this. She loved working, was promoted and respected, and managed to win a battle for equal pay. She felt guilty and wondered if she should have had children, despite loving and caring well for her girls. She was an early adopter of the contraceptive pill. In her youth, there were only two ‘foreigners’ living in their street; now there are only two Anglo families on her block in Westmead, Sydney. One of her daughters ‘married a Pole and a granddaughter married a Lebanese man’.

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Published in August 2017, no. 393