Wednesday, 4 December 2013

DIARY OF A FIRST WOMAN

JANE CLARK DIARY. 1874. Source: Personal Collection.
The diary is Jane Clark’s from 1874. The picture on the cover is how Australia looked at the time.
 Then it was a loose collection of colonies, each running its own affairs but still overseen by Britain. Australia as a nation would not exist until 1901. The diary is a first- hand account of what it was like to live in primitive conditions on the frontier. Unfortunately, I can barely read it because of her scratchy handwriting style.

However, I did find another one of her diaries in a museum in Brisbane a few years ago written in 1871. I read it carefully waiting for a gem from the past. Unfortunately, most of it is taken up with mundane house duties. As I found out, Jane Clark was a fastidious cleaner (she especially liked cleaning curtains)  who liked to have a bath every second day.
 My great grandfather, John Clark is barely mentioned throughout the diary, probably due to his long absences operating the carrying business. When he is mentioned he is called Mister Clark or Johnny depending on her mood towards him.
At one point, Jane goes on a sea voyage to Sydney to visit her relatives. Most of the entries during the voyage just say, “seasick” or “seasick again.” Not actually riveting but it is a glimpse of the normal life for a woman in the 1870's.
It does get interesting reading in places. There is the mention of the murders of two men named Longfield and Lambton by Aborigines who had tried to recapture an absconding Aboriginal boy who had run away from their station. There is also an entry saying that she “hit Totty for not learning.”

 I don’t know who Totty is but I’m presuming she could be an Aboriginal servant girl. Poor girl. My impression after reading the diary is that the Australian frontier in the 1870's was a lonely and brutal existence.