A Note on In My Mother’s Hands

Given the intensely personal and sometimes traumatic nature of the story told in this book, I am often asked if it was ‘cathartic’ to write. The answer is Yes and No.

It was a joy to write – one of those stories that demands to be written, that sometimes had a life of it own as my pen touched the page. Any catharsis for me derived from being able to tell the whole story in one place – it’s such a big story that I had never been able to do that before in any form. Shaping it into a narrative that might beguile a reader, was one of the high points of my life.

My Writing Life

I read avidly as a child – the usual story of losing myself in other worlds, of inexpressible pleasure. My father was tuned in to Australian literature, so in my teens I was lucky enough to read all of Katherine Susannah Pritchard, Eleanor Dark, Kylie Tennant and Ruth Park. I knew that Australian women could be marvellous writers.

I’ve always written – poetry, non-fiction, fiction. I love to ply with words. So, far, I’ve mostly produced non-fiction.Now I’m embarked on a novel!

I write to projects, not particular hours of the day. I carry a notebook with me. I write longhand first. I have days of the elusive muse – stamping about cleaning or drifting from planting petunias to turning the compost. They are essential to my process of writing. Sometimes my laptop and I ride my blue bicycle to a cafe, library or picnic spot where we spend time together.

Teaching Creative Writing

When I taught at The School Without Walls (Canberra, 1973-7), I ran creative writing classes. In the 80s and 90s, these morphed into community-based classes for adults.

All my paid working life I was an educator. My delight in teaching has reached its apotheosis in the chances I now get to teach writing. My long-form course is called Diving In, Diving Deep: the Art of Memoir Writing.

Vietnam Tours

Since 2005 I have taken occasional tour groups to Vietnam. I work with Tran Dinh Song who lives in Da Nang and accompanies us as guide for the whole trip. His passions are education and reconciliation, finding peace out of the war.

I love showing ‘my Vietnam’ to other people. Song loves showing off his country and also demonstrating how peace now operates among Vietnamese who were, way back in the days of the war, on opposite sides.

I have a group coming with me in Sept, 2019.


Born 1942 in Sydney, I lived in Mosman until I was ten, then Canberra until I was fourteen when we moved to Armidale, NSW. I completed high school and attended university there. In 1962 I married and flew to England where my husband undertook a PhD at Sussex University while I did my third year exams long-distance and went on to have a baby called Genevieve.

On return to Australia, I lived with Ian Macdougall, a leading antiwar activist at that time. We had twins, Ben and Hannah in 1969. In 1970, Women’s Liberation arrived and changed my life profoundly.

I have had a life of political activism – Ban the Bomb, Vietnam, Right to Choose, Women Against Rape in War, Close Pine Gap, Close Nurrungar, and support for Indigenous causes. My working career was as an educator – high school teaching (English and History), the School Without Walls (SWOW) in Canberra, Literacy teacher at the Institute for Aboriginal Development in Alice Springs, Equal Opportunity Officer at the University of South Australia and then director of SPECTRA Consultants, training in harassment prevention, marginalization awareness, team building, maximising human relations in all its forms in the government and community sectors. Alongside my activism and teaching, I always wrote, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.

I live in Canberra in the same blocks where I grew my children and one of my daughters now grows my grandchildren – the closest we can get, it seems to me, to village-living in a modern urban setting. Familiarity, autumn leaves, the Brindabellas, the National Library, world-famous visiting lecturers, multitudinous parrots and all those cycle paths – what’s not to like?