Ancestral Voices : The Rose of Tasmania

ANCESTRAL VOICES presents the stories of two twentieth century Tasmanian women through the lens of their own writing introduced and edited with illustrative material (photographs and sketches) by the contemporary voice of their granddaughter and daughter, respectively. The Rose of Tasmania was the name given to Katie Jennings, one of the first ABC women broadcasters, by one of her radio fans. Katie contributed to the National Womens Session which went to air twice weekly from Hobart between the years 1945 and 1948. Whenever you come on the air, I throw a rose and a kiss to the south wrote a male listener from Sydney. These broadcasts provide an insight into post war domestic life and into the social context of the period between the wars. Katie regaled her listeners with stories of her Edwardian childhood, tales of her travels in Canada, and her experiences as a young mother and wife in suburban Hobart. She had a free-flowing style with a distinct ability to describe, often humorously, whatever caught her eye, plus an uncanny ability to recall the past in detail. She was able to capture the essence of the shopping expedition, the bus ride, the conversation overheard in the hairdresser, and her many encounters in the course of everyday life. She thus had enormous appeal for her listeners who were able to identify whole-heartedly with her many adventures.


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Biographies Non Fiction

My First Larder
I well remember my first larder. I formed a picture in my minds eye of what it should look like. I had rather coveted the spacious pantry of my childhood days, wherein we used to creep to sur- reptitious nibbles at custard tarts or pork crackling. There were low stone slabs upon which to keep food cool. There were earthernware crocks full of pickled onions or red cabbage – or prime for salt meat – and the various foods upon the shelves would have kept the family alive through a siege of months, Im sure. Strikes werent fashionable then, or Im certain housewives could have disdained them. They were spacious days and British larders then were fascinating places.
But I had to make my first attempts at larder stocking in Tasmania, in a weatherboard cottage, and the larder was a big cupboard to admit two at a squeeze, building materials being scarce in the period which followed the first world war. However, I was thrilled with my larder. It had shelves all around three sides, and a tiny little flyproof wired window, and when the door shut after me, I couldnt get out. As this happened frequently I used to spend the time I was impris- oned – in reorganising the shelves. It gave me a good insight into Pantry Lore! But when I took to leaving my library books there….Just in case….I was suspected of forming a bad habit, and we got a new lock!
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Suburban Life: Bellerive
Standing at the window watching the morning activities of this little marine suburb. Business people going to catch the 8.35 ferry. The early people. Carefully, methodically prepared for the day's work walking firmly along breathing in the morning air consciously. Then I see the elderly man whose wife gave him 10 children in record time and then left him to enjoy life. Left him with a dirty neglected house and a sheaf of debts and the children. That was years ago and they've all grown up and married and he's enjoying life after a cruise to the East. Now he has breathing space. How calm he looks in his straight, light raincoat and his level felt hat carrying his plain little bag. No-one would dream. Ah, here comes a man with an extravagant selfish wife. He embezzled 800 pounds, forged a cheque and then tried to poison himself but didn't do it properly. Every day for three years he systematically stole his firm's money and held his head up and lived amongst his friends who got him out of the mess in the end. Now he has a job in the Government and a brown leather case and a prosperous looking grey overcoat and a comfortable looking pipe and a superior air and off he goes to his daily job, striding along importantly. Behind him runs Annie Oliver, the eldest of six, nearly seven, whose father is nearly 80 and whose mother is not half as old and who has gone to pieces, bodily and mentally, having children – all girls, and the father wants a boy. Yes, Annie Oliver in bits and pieces of anybody's clothes. With shoes two or three sizes too big for her and straggly hair sticking out from beneath a pudding bowl of a hat. Into sight runs a good husband, with a leather case in one hand and a big fat brown paper parcel in the other. He runs awkwardly as they are heavy and he keeps turning around to see if anyone is within talking distance. He is the man who can't stop talking. He yarns for two hours on the time he got drunk, why it happened and when and how and where and who was there and why and what they did and didn't – talks and talks about a needle in a hay stack. Taking a bee line across the big paddock is the bad husband, no not quite bad – he is tiny, thin, pathetic. His long, thin, tottery legs in tight blue trousers, one foot turning in as he strides uncertainly along. The everlasting and inevitable cigarette smoke puffing from his mouth. His wife told me he sleeps with cigarettes under his mattress. He has a big family, wife and three nasal children and he runs amuck drinking endless beer and having secret affairs with young women, as thin as himself. He is a devil with the women and a hell of a man to himself. It keeps him going and he tells the men what a time he has and totters off to work when he can, but he suffers from ill health and the office are clement with him. Those higher up are not in touch with his life.

The new people have come into next door! On our way over from tennis I caught a glimpse of a small procession of shapeless women going slowly but with a purpose past the Pines. Their clothes were indefinite – skirts and sweaters and felt hats – merging into the atmosphere.
Each woman carries a plant apparently just taken from the earth. They filed in at their garden gate. We came alongside their fencing and walked up the road. Their washing was hanging upon the line in the drying ground. Everything was white – sheets, towel, pillow slips, and six dead white cotton singlets exactly alike hanging together in a row. Six elastic singlets – unemotional – unpromising – forbidding. I felt as if an icy wind blew into my fact straight off that washing – and as we went through our own gate and saw the litter of the children's play – I felt warm.
I long to live in a house far removed from all neighbours – immediate neighbours – where the near- est house is about half a mile away – that seems to be a comfortable distance. To feel that I have at least a portion of the world to myself. There is always the opportunity to mingle with people – but it is so difficult to get away from them. This may be because I do not feel fortunate in the crop of neighbours which have sprung up around our house. I don't feel disposed to discuss the effect of having Nanna and Grampa hovering in our immediate vicinity but I know they are too near and should never have lived right next to us.
Also next door but to the back of us – the family consists of a husband and wife and one boy of eleven – at the time I write – though I am not by any means an example to anyone – there is practi- cally nothing I do but what my neighbour imitates me – perfectly oblivious of the fact that I perceive it. I make myself a tweed suit – she buys a tweed – like mine but a shade lighter and takes it to the best tailor in Hobart, appearing later thus robed! I paper my living romm and behold through the window her long suffering husband balancing on a step ladder with wall paper sticking to him. "It was so shabby you know."
I dig in my garden – and spend some happy hours there – Hylda takes to gardening – though once she confessed she hated it. One day I bought home some copies of well known classics very cheaply – for when the children should come to them. Soon after Hylda appeared – radiant with some gaily bound volumes of unreadable nothings. "Well you've got quantity if not quality" I said. "But look!"she said "they were so cheap – and they're not even damaged!"
This is quite harmless but grows very monotonous. The woman who is always trying to go one better in everything is treading on dangerous ground. Since the crash their life has become one of those tragedies an existence for existence sake.
On our right live four spinster ladies with their widowed mother. I suppose I should say just spin- sters. Somewhere I have written of their line of white undergarments hanging like chaste echoes, one after another and down their washing line. Here is a hive of industry, stainless, blameless and methodical.
We are distant neighbours, quite pleasant in our greetings but there it ends.
Across the way lives a tripe spined woman who frets for fear her children are kidnapped or drowned or get measles. She hardly lets them, or her husband out of her sight – and when the smell of a distant bush fire comes over the hill she waits at her gate so that she will be ready to fly with her brood as the fire approaches and threatens her house. Her favourite pastime is to dress up herself and her two children and go over to town on exhibition. Once she told me this and how people admired the children. Natural and right to be a fond parent but it seems such empty bliss to be on exhibition.
Further down is that addition to all neighbourhoods – the wireless fiend – whose wireless pro- claims to its superior strength in a mighty voice at every session, beginning very early in the morn. Some folks thrive on noise because these people have two boys who are performing the traditional antics of all normal small boys from going astray after school to fighting in the road and so on, are regularly smacked and put to bed for all the neighbours to hear – only to appear later – as unperturbed as from an ordinary meal.
Immediately next door to this is a well fed, well housed little family – all settling comfortably in the family bosom – the security and atmosphere of this must be too stifling to endure continuous- ly, for anyone who has acquired it, and not been born into it as the children have. The little father escapes at regular intervals to breathe and goes from one extreme to the other – consequently he is referred to by some of the neighbours as a worm.
But the mother still sits in blissful ignorance on her eggs!

Year Written: 1992

Word Count: 57784

Karen Darby

Karen Darby, the daughter of Ann Jennings, discovered her mother’s diaries by chance, in an ottoman, after her death. Her paternal grandmother Katie Jennings’ ABC radio broadcast scripts were found in an old trunk. Inside the Ottoman •2015 Varuna Publisher Introduction Program, shortlisted UWA Press •2012 Eric Dark Flagship Fellowship Award for non-fiction, Varuna Writers’ House, NSW. •2011 Varuna Publisher Introduction Program, shortlisted QUP •2010 Arts Tasmania studio space made available for regional artists. •2008 7RPH Community Radio production of The Rose of Tasmania: Broadcasts of Katie Jennings. •2007 Arts Tasmania literary grant assistance •2006 Wildcare Tasmania Nature Writing competition, runner-up prize for passages from Inside the Ottoman with publication in Island magazine, Issue 109. • 2004 Canadian Adventure published in Canadian magazine Reminisce •2003: short-listed for the NFAW Marian Eldridge Award The Rose of Tasmania • 1992 Scholar in Residence, Philip Smith Education Centre, Hobart Qualifications 1990 Graduate Diploma in Religion Studies, University of South Australia 1971 Diploma of Education, University of NSW 1969 Bachelor of Arts (Hons) English Literature, University of Sydney Publications •2014: A Tapestry of Bruny Island: Tales from Four Generations, Ginninderra Press •2005: excerpts from the diaries of Ann Jennings published by ABC Books in Forever Yours: Australia’s Hidden Love Letters; ABC Books •1996: selections from the ABC radio broadcasts of Katie Jennings: ‘Lines from My Grandmother’s Lips’, published 40 Degrees South, Issue 2; ‘Rabbit Hunting’, Issue 8. •1993: Striking a New Note: ABC National Women’s Session Broadcasts 1945-1948, compiled and edited by Karen Darby, Philip Smith Education Centre Hobart

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