One Life: My Mother's Story
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One Life is the story of Nance Russell, whose life spanned a century of tumult and change. In an act of great imaginative sympathy, her daughter Kate Grenville has drawn on the fragments of memoir Nance left, to create an intimate account of the patterns in her mother's life. In many ways Nance's story echoes that of many mothers and grandmothers, for whom the spectacular shifts of the twentieth century offered a path to new freedoms and choices. In other ways Nance was exceptional. In an era when women were expected to have no ambitions beyond the domestic, she ran successful businesses as a registered pharmacist, laid the bricks for the family home, and discovered her husband's secret life as a revolutionary. One Life is a deeply moving homage by one of Australia's finest writers.
in Botany. That was a credit. Only two of the other women had passed: Mavis Sherlock and Marjorie Hyder. Marjorie had come within one mark of topping the year in Chemistry. In Botany she was ten marks ahead of the nearest man. They had to give her dux and the Gray Prize. Marjorie was a small quiet woman with a square face that was usually hidden under her hat. Today she was flushed, had pushed her hat back as if to say, Yes, I am Marjorie Hyder! Nance felt as if the year behind her was a ragged
Inside she was telling it over to herself like counting out coins: Never again, never again. Never again those hated four walls, the screech of the trams, the smell of cabbage and potato on the stairs at the hostel. Rabbits weren’t so bad. They could get a milking cow and they could kill a sheep now and then. They wouldn’t go hungry the way those poor wretches outside the church were hungry. And, for the first time in years, they’d all be together. When they got to Currabubula they didn’t stop.
an enormous wooden table and a stove always warm. Her father would leave his boots, heavy with black mud, at the door and pad into the house in his socks. He’d ruffle her hair with a big hard farmer’s hand, take her on his knee. Her mother seemed always to be scolding. Always her voice high and angry, a piece of wire cutting through the room. The child’s own name came to be an accusation. Nance! Nance! Outside it was the paddocks, sky everywhere you looked, and a lovely long flowing of days.
the old one. She had a long but uncomplicated labour and at the end of it there he was, the person she’d been waiting to meet. It was the day after her twenty-ninth birthday, the twenty-sixth of August 1941. He was a solid bundle, not fragile as she’d feared. Her arms knew exactly what to do. Once mother and baby were nicely arranged, the nurse let Ken come in. He smiled and touched her shoulder, and held the baby for a few minutes. She was glad he was there. Still, something in her had shifted.
your own? Ken was right. It was all hot air to make people go on thinking they were winning. She’d put up with not being able to buy any prunes for Christopher, thinking dried fruit was one more small sacrifice that civilians had to make. Then on one of her visits Max told her the full story. It made her cranky enough to write a letter to the paper. Dear Sir, Some time ago all the prunes and apricots in Australia were commandeered for the Army. While the attempt to improve the diet of the