A Mere Chance, Ada Cambridge

Here I am, doing a second Perth – Mt Isa, unloaded last night. Luckily, I wrote this review for my AWWC gig before I left. Right now I’m negotiating for a load home, which may or may not involve me in running to Townsville over the weekend. Meanwhile I can sit in the (mild – 26C) tropical sun and read and write.

You might see that I had last week’s Australian Legend post on my mind as I wrote this one.


It’s a tragedy that Australia’s early women writers were denied their place in the canon by the rabid misogyny of the turn of the (C20th) century Bulletin, and by its fellow travellers Colin Roderick and Vance Palmer who dominated what we were allowed to know about Australian literature right up to the 1960s. With the consequence that important writers like Catherine Helen Spence, Catherine Martin, Tasma, Rosa Praed and Ada Cambridge were dismissed as romance writers and remained out of print for up to a century.

Read on …

10 thoughts on “A Mere Chance, Ada Cambridge

  1. I have to confess I am a bit jealous of your 26C sun after the week we’ve had! Normally that would sound much too hot for me, but we spent the first few days of this week at 34-35C (and my mum and brother who are nearer London were at 39-40). I saw lots of kind Australians sharing tips on how to stay cool in the heat this week which I used and appreciated (especially since lots of people from other hot countries were just laughing at us…)

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    • North Queensland is going through a ‘cold spell’ – and it is a bit nippy overnight, say 5-10C – certainly a lot cooler than they are used to. But much warmer than wintry southern Australia. I’m enjoying it, anyway.

      40C anywhere is brutal, but especially where there’s no shade trees. I get by during Perth (WA) summers without aircon – just keep the flat shut up (and your double glazing might help there) and ceiling fans.

      At 50C, which we get, especially up north, it’s a struggle to get out of the airconned truck and NEVER without a hat.

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    • I learned from you, Lou, that most buildings in England are not air conditioned because there wasn’t a need for it, and that you have cooling techniques like doors to almost every room, including the kitchen. Most American houses are open everywhere. I hope you are doing okay. I’ve been thinking about you and hoping both your flat and the school where you teach are tolerable, if not comfortable.

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      • Yes, I’m okay – even 35 is hot for the UK, and very unusually for here it didn’t really cool down at night, which was unpleasant, but I’m grateful to be on the coast, where it didn’t get up as high as it did in more inland areas, and although we did have fires they weren’t anything like the ones in London. It’s all cooled down to a much more usual summer temperature now, for which I think we are all grateful!

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      • Ohhh, I didn’t realize you were near the water. I’m right by the Great Lakes, so when we travel from our house to my mom’s we can watch the temp gauge in the car go down as we get close to the lake and then go back up as we drive inland.

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  2. Bill, I’ve been learning so much about these classic authors from you, and here the comparison of a few women’s attitudes toward marriage was very helpful. Something I’ve honestly never understood but would like to (because I think it would help me understand the time period better) is this concept of “duty” to marry. You mention it in your review. To whom does the woman have a duty? Society so she fits in and makes everyone feel safe in the sameness? To her father, because he has to keep paying for a daughter who is not married? To something cringey, like the race or human kind or God?

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    • First of all, let’s be clear that we are talking about the women who wrote and were written about in the C19th – middle to upper middle class. I don’t think poor people had much choice about working, nor I’m guessing, about marrying.

      I provide examples all the time of early Australian women writers who were dubious about the benefits of marriage. Spence in both her life and in her fiction made it clear that spinsterhood and self-support were options women should consider. In 1900 Miles Franklin said the unspoken bit out loud: that intelligent women who married were soon ground down by housework and child bearing.

      So where does the woman’s ‘duty’ come from. First from the church, Protestant and Catholic, which meant that societal pressure on women was enormous. And second from the Law, which was written so that women’s income, and more particularly capital, was controlled by the senior man in her family. (The best position for a woman to be in was to be a wealthy widow).

      As for fathers, it seems that one daughter was sometimes held back from marrying in order to be her parent’s servant as they aged. But I don’t think the cost of feeding unmarried daughters was a big consideration, and presumably their clothing allowance was reduced as they got older.

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      • How did I forget the church’s role in marriage?? If I’m being honest, today has been pretty spacey, and I’m trying to get through it by reading blog posts and comments and I stopped at a garage sale. Perhaps I’ve slowly forgotten that marriage is a “duty” because there are so many examples of women holding their own, surviving on their own, or living basically a separate life from their husbands (marriage on paper) that I don’t picture being demolished through housework and child rearing. But of course, most women were. I also forgot about the daughter who is “saved” for a lifelong servant to her parents. Thanks for helping me think through this.

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      • It’s taken me a long time – 70 years! – to get to the point where I help even one woman “think through things”, so you’ve made my day!

        And then there’s the other side – pair bonding – which is seemingly hard wired and has the potential to give us so much. You and I are in good relationships (even if mine is a little odd); we read and enjoy Rom.Coms; these ‘relationship’ stories derive from the fact that we nearly all fall in love at one time or another; and the sad thing is that the Church and the State give men the power to turn loving relationships into power trips.

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