26 September 2023

My Accidental Career

Start the conversation

Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Brenda Niall, Text Publishing, $34.99.

One of Australia’s most acclaimed biographers, Brenda Niall looks back on nine decades of an extraordinary life. My Accidental Career is a ‘pandemic book’, born out of isolation.

It looks back on her own life and the circumstances, events and choices that shaped her career, from her childhood in the Melbourne suburb of Kew to her university days, her first job writing reviews for a magazine and her travels in Ireland.

Aged 91, Brenda has lived a remarkable life, blessed with admirable recollection and rational intellect, as told through this detail-filled autobiography. It’s not a story of struggle, but rather a sensitive recall of a writing life from a woman who was there, successfully and unapologetically, and lived to tell the tale.

“Looking back over more than 60 years of work as academic and writer, I see a pattern of surprises. In the following pages I’ve tried to show how it felt at the time, when each turn of fate appeared to me as unpredictable.”

Living in a time when intelligent, ambitious women were not championed by society, Brenda’s life has, luckily, been marked by serendipity. There have been many ‘happy accidents’.

“When, after a tentative push, the doors to a career had opened, I didn’t have the sense of struggling in a man’s world that younger women rightly felt. Somehow, in what I persist in seeing as a series of accidents in which timing played a big part, I found two satisfying careers. My Accidental Career is the story of a 1950s consciousness gradually waking up to a new world in which opportunity and equality were within a woman’s reach. And that I wanted them.”

Diaries and letters have helped to remind her of things she’d forgotten or got wrong in memory. “My phrase for my five-year-old self became ‘timid but implacable’. I had never thought of that contradiction, but it rings true now.”

Brenda Niall is the author of five award-winning biographies, including her acclaimed accounts of the Boyd family and her portrait of the Durack sisters, True North.

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.