26 September 2023

Our Mothers

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Robbie Henderson, Austin Macauley Publishers, $22.00.

A captivating insight with sagacious and patient accuracy, Our Mothers is a unique celebration of an extraordinary diversity of women who became mothers. In fact, these are certainly “nice tales of old Canberra, some of the women who built it and helped the old mandarins do their job”.

They all contributed to the war effort in some way, mostly domestically, and to the building of the fabric of the developing city of Canberra, living here during the’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

Our Mothers contains a miscellany of stories written by a group of friends who met during school and university. Seldom acknowledged, these narratives are about their mothers.

The Canberra author took three years to compile the book and felt the contents needed to be “shared” They are “viewed as part- social history and part- personal reflections about the relationship between mothers and children.”

A teacher, a biochemist, a political activist and a feminist activist in Australia and the United Kingdom, Henderson said some of the tales were cautionary and some sad. “There is no doubt that the impact of the Second World War affected all their lives in very different ways. It was my intention to attempt to draw this out a little and most of the writers reflected on this aspect although in the end it was a very Canberra story, a tale of the time. It was a very mono cultural place, exciting in many ways as the national institutions appeared and highly political. Those who viewed Canberra from the outside thought that there was no life inside the Canberra bubble. I hope our book shows how rich it really was.”

Of the 16 stories, which one inspired Robbie the most? “I was inspired by many of these women. I could not choose. They are all so different. The way they are written reflects my friends’ point of views as much as it does their mothers. I loved them all. But then of course I knew the women.”

Not only did these tales add a richness to their lives, but it also included many surprises.

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