5 unexpected quotes

5 unexpected quotes
5 unexpected inspirational quotes I uncovered from interviews with Australian women in the Hazel de Berg Collection
22 August 2016

The playwright surrounded by the world of her play.

As the Friends Creative Arts Fellow for 2016, I have been creating a play using verbatim text from the Hazel de Berg Collection. Hazel de Berg (1913–1984) was a pioneer of oral history in Australia. Here are some surprising moments I particularly loved in her interviews, which also feature in my play.

No. 1

The big joy was when we had a blind person judge picture books for the first time in a picture book competition, in 1978, being the first time, world wide, that a blind person had evaluated any form of art.

Nellie Woolaston, 1979

Nellie Woolaston was President of the Somerton Braile Book Club for Children, which, in the year of the interview, she had established 22 years previously. In that time she had created 736 tactile picture books for blind children, which were sent around the world, and they had also made history as in the quote above.

No. 2 

Australian girls couldn’t be creative, Australian boys couldn't be creative, let alone girls. Girls got married and had babies and did the right thing and all the rest of it and I could never fit into that and there were lots of other people, too, who perhaps didn't have what one young man called me, to me the other day ‘my strong male ego’ to help them through. I never really know why it has to be a male ego I can't see why it can't be a female one actually.

Dorothy Hewett, 1973

I cried when I read this quote, and wanted to nurture my own strong female ego, and the strong female egos of my colleagues and friends. Hence the title ‘My Strong Female Ego’.

No. 3

Although I had been engaged twice and lost both men I was engaged to, I said I would marry. 

Alice Innes, 1976

This is a deeply sad quote, and may feel an odd choice to be a ‘inspiration’. However, in an interview with a 42 page long transcription, this one sentence is the only mention of these engagements. Innes speaks of her work nursing, writing and running a tourist hotel and private hospital, in Fiji, around the Pacific and in New Guinea. Her interview is filled with remarkable stories, including her heroic work as matron of the Auburn District Hospital (NSW) during World War 1. Behind this one sentence is vast grief, but Innes went on and had an incredible life, concluding that ‘the greatest blessing is the memories of the human contacts’.

No. 4

We have not paid our debt to the past unless we leave the future indebted to us.

Ruby Rich, 1976

I don’t need to add anything to this wisdom from Rich; divine wisdom.

No. 5 

I think all of us are rather keen on verse.

Hazel de Berg, 1960

This quote is actually from an interview of de Berg about Dame Mary Gilmore. On speaking with de Berg’s daughter, Diana Ritch, she recounted a moment when a friend of de Berg said she couldn’t write poetry. de Berg responded that everybody could write poetry and she could as well, but the friend disagreed. Over the next period of conversation, de Berg started writing down words and phrases the friend said. She eventually handed the friend the scrap of paper with her own words, and told her she had written a poem. This value of the beauty of language, and valuing the creative inside of all of us, is something I believe de Berg very much appreciated. Via her collection, she passes this on to the future, through bringing out the beautiful in the words and stories of her interviewees. 

I would love you to join me at the reading of My Strong Female Ego on Tuesday 30 August at the Library.