Kate Grenville Makes HistoryMarch 13, 2015

Why was history written by men back then? Not that the women were too busy to attend to their domestic duties. Customs dictate so. It could be an ugly picture, which Kate Grenville shown in "Joan Makes History".

Published in 1988, "Joan" revisited Australia's past. This was a viewpoint of a woman, looking back at the so-called ugly years of the colonial era and afterwards. Take note that this wasn't Orlando in Down Under, even though Grenville, a native of Sydney, might be flattered with the comparison to Virginia Woolf.

As we celebrate Australian Women's History Month, it would be right to talk about Kate Greenville. She published nine novels and a collection of short stories, which was good enough to make her one of the best-known authors in Oz.

The idea of perfection

"She looks up at last, straightens her back, resumes the graceful listening attitude, takes a sip of wine. She catches my eye. Without cracking the perfect symmetry and beauty of her heart-shaped face, she gives me a slow patient wink from one brown eye."

- "Bearded Ladies" (1984)

Grenville's other writings reveal the standing of womenfolk in modern society - and how they must behave. Her descriptions were biting remarks, if not amusing. As for the reasons why there were no changes, the author had a theory. (Read "Mars and Venus", where Grenville explained the evolution of life.)

Women have come a long way. In fact, the only thing left were First World problems. Grenville's views would be far from idiosyncratic. As she recounted one of her trips to the Outback, her rediscovery of her hometown showed the unpleasant truth. Nonetheless, it was better than denying it.

Meet the Queen Bee

"Lilian's Story" (1985) was a loose account of Bea Miles. You weren't a true Sydneysider if you haven't heard her story.

Bea's father committed her to a hospital for the insane after he could no longer tolerate her bohemian behaviour. It was followed by her life on the streets, where she became a legend. Cab drivers couldn't forget her. (She often refused to pay.) She was well-educated, spending a lot of time at the State Library of New South Wales. It could've turned her into a productive citizen, but she ended up quoting lines from Shakespeare's plays to strangers (to earn money).

Shameful? Perhaps. Rebel? Without a doubt.

A number of films and plays tried to explain her actions. It would suggest a product of a troubled background, and how she had the tenacity to deal with it. But what if she weren't mad at all? Take note that Bea Miles was the daughter of a wealthy public accountant. He was hot headed too, and father and daughter have a tempestuous relationship. This might be how Grenville looked at this odd woman.

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