Remembrance, Faith Richmond

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Faith Richmond is strangely invisible on Google. As best I can gather she is (or was) an illustrator and writer, born in New Zealand in about 1935 and who, as she details in this memoir of her childhood and adolescence, grew up in Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne.

I trust the ‘Imprint’ imprint and buy them on sight, it’s a good way of getting hold of Australian classics. I paid $6 for this one, I don’t remember where, carried it with me for a long time as reserve reading, and am sorry that I was disappointed in it. What follows is my best attempt at a fair review.

It’s a pity my father’s not still around, as he too grew up in Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne and at more or less the same time, and he might have enjoyed the recollections. Remembrance is subtitled, though not anywhere prominent, A Daughter’s Story and that is what it is, a story of growing up seen through the prism of the author’s relationship with her parents.

Richmond’s father and mother were hippies before hippies were invented, bohemians maybe although not obviously belonging to any arty community, but definitely non-conforming. Father is a university lecturer, in Philosophy maybe although it’s never made clear; mother is ‘artistic’, a gardener, and an active communist.

Faith has a sister two years older and a baby brother. There is another, older brother, adopted from a ‘shelter for fallen women’ who is mostly ‘away’ – perhaps in a reform school. It is never said why and towards the end of the book, after a long absence, he turns up leading a normal life with a steady job and a young wife.

The story underlying the whole of the book and all of the author’s growing up is that father is manic. In the beginning this is just eccentricity

… sometimes he reminds me of the Charlie Chaplin film we saw. He puts on brightly coloured clothes – once he wore my sister’s yellow tutu from the ballet – and strides around making loud speeches. It seems to be at special times he does these funny things. And it’s not very often. I asked my mother on one occasion if it was his birthday that made him so happy and she looked angry and said his birthday was six months away.

Gradually he begins accepting medication, kicking against its deadening effects, takes to his bed with ‘flu’, becomes unemployable, works gardening jobs for the council, gives one private, failed ‘symposium’, and finally is committed.

I never warm to the author, she holds us at arm’s length though that may not have been her intention. Everything is described but nothing is felt. There is none of that teenage exuberance that illuminates My Brilliant Career for example, and in fact there are similarities with Miles Franklin’s much later My Childhood at Brindabella. Both are written with the  hindsight of older age and in both the child is too knowing and the descriptions too adult.

The older sister has a teacher who encourages her to write, but he has a weakness for flowery prose and the whole family conspire with the budding writer to come up with ever more elaborate phrases for her essays. The problem is that the author herself, unconscious of the irony, writes in exactly this way. So she writes of herself at 11

As I lie there watching the chiaroscuro of quicksilver shadows on the wall beside me, the evening brings to life a day several weeks ago when my father sat reading in the darting shadows of the prunus tree.

In Brisbane they live in Auchenflower near the university, the author attends kindergarten, primary school, the family takes a day trip by train to the beach at Sandgate – the first time I went in a Brisbane train I was locked in! No door handles! you had to lower the sash window and open the door from the outside. They’re different in Queensland. In Canberra they live first in Turner then in a farm house by the fields that became Lake Burley Griffin.

The author attends Canberra High, then when they move to Melbourne, to a little house in Caulfield with a back yard and an orchard, MacRob Girls where she’s unhappy until her father gets her into University High where she is still solitary but at least fits in. Mother takes menial work as father’s income falls off, and the girls too get jobs. There is a lot of description of the War and immediate post-war years but I’m afraid Richmond never really brings it to life. Not for me anyway.

 

Faith Richmond, Remembrance, Wm Collins, Sydney, 1988. Cover picture, Flowerpiece on a Table, Grace Cossington-Smith

 

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14 thoughts on “Remembrance, Faith Richmond

  1. Well, I’ve looked her up in The Oxford History of NZ Lit and she’s not listed in the index, and she’s not in either the Oxford Companion or the PEN Anthology of AustLit. So I’ve drawn a complete blank – which is surprising because 1988 is not really so very long ago…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. From my brother:

    I tried to post a reply on your book review … but I think your Faith became a PINKNEY.
    Have a look at this:- The great Australian book of puzzles / John Pinkney ; illustrations by Faith Pinkney
    BookKids’ book of 2 minute puzzles. Book 2 / John Pinkney ; illustrated by Faith Richmond

    and an obit :- PINKNEY(nee Richmond)Faith Clare Passed away peacefully on 22 December 2016. Much loved daughter of Hilary and Norman. Treasured sister of Nigel (dec), Brigid and Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing this Bill. It does sound like a disappointing memoir. Your including that quote is the perfect example of what it’s good to include a quote or two in a review, You can SAY the writing is XXX, but it’s only a quote that will prove to your readers what you are saying.

    I went to a special screening of My brilliant career – a new digital restoration – at Parliament House this week, and it was great. The best thing was how well the film, made in 1979, and based on a turn-of-the-century book, still stands up today – both for its story and its style.

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      • No, at the new one … part of an occasional series of screenings done for politicians, except they were mostly absent as the house was sitting. Indeed it was the night of Anning’s speech (though I’m not sure exactly when his speech was.)

        Yes, but, you know, movies aren’t books!!

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      • Well I tried to look for the phrase Faith Richmond ie not just the words anywhere and it still brought up first something like “faith, to Richmond”. I didn’t search deeply but on the first page of results the only valid reference was a line in an article listing new releases – didn’t even say what the book was. Faith Pinkey retrieved nothing.

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  4. I don’t expect a reply! I have time on my hands. Found this about 3 pages in, in Google, an extract from a biography of NZ poet Allen Curnow which discusses Richmond’s parents (Hilary (“Larry”), Faith’s mother was Curnow’s cousin)
    https://books.google.com.au/books?id=3XAzDwAAQBAJ&pg=PT35&lpg=PT35&dq=faith+pinkney&source=bl&ots=5IiI9s8Jbq&sig=viaOUcpqhv2cYtgfqYI2UpdBjvk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwje9Lau9PLcAhXHErwKHe4nAQU4ChDoATAJegQIABAB#v=onepage&q=faith%20pinkney&f=false

    Found a couple of puzzle books (On NLA site with husband John Pinkney) and that’s it.

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  5. Some wonderful group detective work here – interesting for me with my fascination with forgotten writers. The memoir has at least the ‘plot’ to be particularly interesting. I like your approach of buying all the Imprint series you see – it’s a good way to expand your reading horizons, even if not all of them work out right.

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