Women Writing: Views & Prospects 1975-1995

'This diary writing does not really count as writing': women's writing and the writing of history / Katie Holmes

[Katie Holmes]

The title of this paper takes its quote from an entry Virginia Wolff made in her diary in January 1919:

'This diary writing does not really count as writing, since I have just reread my years [sic] diary and am much struck by the rapid and haphazard gallop at which it swings along, sometimes indeed jerking almost intolerably over the cobbles.' (20 January 1919)

Wolff's status as one of the greatest writers of this century of course gives lie to the notion that her diary writing does not count as writing, for it is laced with touches of brilliance, 'the diamonds in the dustheap' as she calls them. But what of other diary writers, women who found no fame through writing but who diligently recorded their daily lives? How might we read and understand such forms of literary production?

I will introduce these issues with a quote from an article by the American literary critic Carolyn Heilbrun, 'What was Penelope unweaving?' The Penelope she refers to is, of course, the figure from Homer's Odyssey, who spends ten years following the fall of Troy awaiting the return of her husband Odysseus (who had already been away at war for ten years previously). Surrounded by hundreds of would-be suitors, she agrees to consider them only when she has finished weaving her father-in-law's shroud. Penelope never finishes the shroud. What she weaves during the day, she unweaves at night. Heilbrun begins her essay thus:

'In the old myths, weaving was women's speech,

women's language, women's story. Of all human accomplishments, Freud granted women only the invention of weaving: an art, he conjectured, they had to devise to conceal their genital deficiencies. But the old stories confirm that women wove, not to conceal, but to reveal, to engage, to counter male violence. For this they are punished, but not before 'the voice of the shuttle' had been heard, if only to be silenced again.

Women's weaving was women's answer to their enforced silence about their own condition, their own mutilation.

(Carolyn Heilbrun, Hamlet's Mother and Other Women, Ballantine Books, New York, 1990, p.120)

Heilbrun writes of the difficulty women have in finding a story. The problem for Penelope, she suggests, was that hers was as yet an unwritten story: 'how a woman may manage her own destiny when she has no plot, no narrative, no tale to guide her. Imagining, inventing, she weaves and unweaves and knows, when the stranger [Odysseus] appears, that the time for enacting her new story has come'. (p.126)

So what has Penelope's weaving and unweaving got to do with women's writing? In this paper I pick up these themes of writing and story telling, looking at the stories we have of women and suggesting ways in which those forms of writing which have been considered insignificant and irrelevant to both history and literature, can provide the beginnings of new stories about both the past and the present. How might writing such as women's letters and diaries challenge what we traditionally think of as history?

Heilbrun suggests that the reason Penelope had no story is because the only story women have as yet been allowed to tell is the romance. Theirs/ours, is the 'marriage plot, the erotic plot, the courtship plot, but never, as for men, the quest plot'. For women today, she suggests, there are no stories, no narratives, no scripts to prepare us for entry into public life, or the pain, anxiety and pleasure of being a woman in the 1990s.

This, I think, is a somewhat bleak picture. Heilbrun does go on, however, to suggest that the task before us then, is to form new fictions for our lives: 'We cannot make wholly new fictions; we can only transform old tales, and recognise how women have transformed old tales in the past. Out of old tales, we must make new lives'. (p. 128)

And so to history. History is a form of story telling about the past. The way we write history, the stories we tell, will reflect our own preoccupations, our own interests, our own understandings of what is important now, and in the past as well. Much history writing in this country has involved an active, but selective process of remembering and forgetting. For years Australian history books have begun with the 'discovery' of Australia by Captain Cook, the arrival of the First Fleet, and proceed to tell of hardships endured and courage in the face of vicissitude, of progress and nation building. The forgetting upon which this form of storytelling has been based is the erasure of conflict from the narrative and the struggle of the Aboriginal inhabitants for their land and their survival. The participation of white women in both the colonising and nation building process has also, until recently, been ignored.

For the indigenous people of this country, making public the stories of their past has been crucial in their fight for land rights and for justice. Uncovering Australia's black history has posed a profound challenge to the 'real history' we had come to accept as truth. For feminist historians, the task has been one of unweaving the history which has been told by men-the seamless versions of the past that erased women's existence and rendered their voices silent. And so slowly, carefully and with mistakes, new stories are being woven. At their best these tell of the lives of many different kinds of women and acknowledge the dynamics of power in relationships which cross gender, class, ethnicity and race.

My only sense of disappointment with some of these narratives of the past, is the lack of insight into women for whom the washing, cleaning, paid work, childcare, growing up and growing older consumed most of their time, energy and emotional life. You see these sorts of activities have never been considered historically important. Although feminist historians have recognised their significance (how could a nation function without women to bear and rear children and wash up after them?) they have not looked much at the ways women themselves negotiated the conflicting demands such things placed on them. What are their stories? How would they like their lives to be told? How did they tell their own lives?

And so now to diaries. (In restricting myself to diaries I am looking at literary women, white and mainly middle class. This of course also has implications for the writing of history.)

Diary writing, I like to think, is a little like weaving: the warp is the daily happening of our lives, the weft the words chosen to tell the story, the shuttle the pen or voice which brings the pattern, the web, into being. Just as feminist critics have recognised the importance of weaving and tapestry as a form of women's speech and storytelling, an activity suitably feminine but one through which they might reveal what otherwise remains silent, so diary writing has begun to be recognised as an important form of writing for women. The diary can be a place of resistance or defiance, of accommodation or rapprochement. A place where women can tell stories which would otherwise not be heard, or where they can lay claim to writing.

I have been interested in women's diaries and letters for some time now. When I first began working on diaries, way back in 1987, I stopped to think about where my interest came from. This is what I came up with:

-She [my mother] used to sit at a desk to write, any desk at first: later she would have her own desk, and eventually her own room. Until then her diary was her room. Its contents were always a mystery to me. They still are. I always felt my mother used her diary to record those things she couldn't tell-couldn't tell anyone, couldn't tell me.

I have long wanted to know what she wrote in it. Sitting at her desk she would get a look on her face that I interpreted to mean 'Do not disturb'. The time, like the book, was private and not for sharing.

Excluded from my mother's diary, I sought those of other women. I was looking for women's images of telling, for their stories. How did women make sense of their lives? What were the metaphors and meanings women constructed through which they could articulate their daily experience? Given the model of my mother and my own sporadic periods of diary writing, I assumed that women used their diaries to explore their emotions and how they felt about their lives and daily experiences. It was in women's diaries, I felt, that as a historian I could come closest to understanding the ways women in the past negotiated their lives.

I did not find what I had expected. Many women gave no space at all to their emotional lives, and disclosed no secrets about their private thoughts or actions. Rather, they filled their pages with insistent domestic detail-washing, ironing, cooking, cleaning, childcare-devoid, it seemed to me then, of metaphor or meaning. What I confronted was a tension between what I thought a diary was, and what my writers thought it was. I did not find their 'private' worlds waiting for me to analyse. I realised I was not going to find my mother or myself, by reading other women's diaries! I also realised, however, that these women were writing for a reason; the fact that they were not writing what I had expected suggested that I need to rethink my assumptions. What was concealed behind the seemingly petty details of their lives? What clues could I find by turning my thoughts to the nature of the genre? As I learned to listen to the silences in their writing, to the rhythms and patterns of their writers' daily lives, and all that they revealed through the structure of their words, I began to realise that the material before me was in fact rich and varied and fresh.

I realise now that my initial confusions when faced with these diaries reflected broader debates and changes within history itself, especially feminist history. Had I begun my PhD 15 years earlier, it probably would not have occurred to me to pick women's diaries as my focus. I would probably have chosen to look at some famous women, or a key women's political organisation. If I had begun in the early 1980s I would most likely have been looking at questions such as women's roles during the depression, how women fared and the kinds of experiences they endured. I would have used the diaries as sources for this kind of information, mining them for what I could ascertain about what women did with their lives, using them to build a picture of their social and domestic world. This in fact was the kind of history in which I was trained, one which used sources such as diaries for information. My interest was in something else: I wanted to try and understand women's subjectivity, by which I mean the ways women themselves understood their lives, their sense of self. Related to this, I wanted to look at ways of using women's writing in history. How do women's own stories change the stories we tell about the past? Can we fashion a new history, and new lives, from old tales?

Let me give you an example. Mabel Lincoln was a housewife in the Gippsland town of Leongatha. Her diary entries read like litanies of meals cooked and tasks accomplished.

'Rise 7.30 Kornies & toast, no eggs to be procured in the town, tidy up generally get to washing 11 oclock, for dinner we have Puree made from Rice & beans I have in the meat safe & Mutton stock, boiled potatoes (in skins) tin kippered herrings, Tapioca warmed up (left from Yesterday) do three coppers full of white washing, finish at 5 PM cook scones & jam tarts for tea (pastry scraps left from yesterday makes 15 tarts) cook corn beef for tomorrow (Harold's favourite dish) after tea clean up & wash my face, Mabel Maureen & Lorna go up to the train to greet Harold, [son] Rosie goes too, I stay home & have hot soup ready for him, balance of Puree 1 small tin of tomato soup, 1 tin of water. this makes a delicious meal for him, says he knew I would have soup or something so we talk & read until bedtime....get to bed 12PM'. (16 May 1930)

(MS 9748, Bay 18, LaTrobe Library Collection, State Library of Victoria)

Mabel's diary is full of such insistent domestic detail. The writing is not brilliant, and in the scheme of things the meals she cooked and the loads of washing she finished do not seem of overwhelming significance. In the early 1980s I suspect what I might have done with Mabel's diary would have been to create from it a picture of her life, the kind of work she did, the food she prepared, the structure of her household. How, I think I would have been asking, did she live? The questions I did ask, were somewhat different: what was she writing about and why? Within this framework the emphasis shifts. I 'read' her diary within the context of the rise of 'domestic science' experts who implored women to modernise their homes, rationally organise their days and change their childrearing practices. They also insisted that women needed to be trained in the art of domestic management, including such things as the preparation of balanced diets. Such training, they believed, 'lies at the root of national health, child welfare, safe maternity, national efficiency and happy home life.' (Woman's World, 1 June 1937, p. 24) I think Mabel Lincoln was at pains to present herself in her diary as a woman who took seriously her domestic responsibilities and was keen that she be seen as a competent cook and a good mother and provider. Her balanced meal of rice, beans, meat and fish, finished off with tapioca pudding, wasted nothing. Around this meal she completed three loads of washing and prepared food for the following day. What I am suggesting then, is that Mabel understood her life within the context of a discourse about women as household managers and 'modern' mothers. She asserted herself as an efficient, modern, housewife. But Mabel did not carry her domestic burden uncritically. Efficiency, routines and modern appliances were all very well, but the daily round remained unending and exhausting:

'Start work 8 oclock finish 11. PM, feel awfully fed up, this life is much worse than the farm was even if I didnt have any clothes, here I do not have time to wear them, so it is worse, dont know what to do about it, but I am fed up.' (21 January 1930)

So why did Mabel write and what can we make of this 'writing which does not count as writing'? Does the fact that Mabel read portions of her diary to visitors who called, change the way we read it? I like to imagine Mabel sitting in her kitchen reading out the list of all the meals she had cooked and floors washed, as if to say: 'See. Notice how clean my house is, how well fed are my family.' She insisted on the importance of her work and in writing gave permanence to the transitory, repeatable nature of her daily tasks. Through the daily recording of her labour she worked to order each day, to hold the shape of it together and convey a sense of tasks achieved and standards maintained.

The story Mabel told of her life was one which both incorporated and resisted dominant understandings of women's work. In declaring the domestic load an impossible burden and the possibility of a routine a fallacy, she gave voice to the complexities of women's lives and recognised the tensions which were negated by the rhetoric of the domestic science movement. Mabel did not write her life as a narrative of romance and while she did not really find any solution to the irreconcilable demands on her time, through her writing I believe she found a way of asserting the worth of her work within a culture which rendered such labour marginal and insignificant. And while there is no lasting record of Mabel's clean floors or her tapioca puddings, what we do have is her diary confidently declaring their importance.

One of the challenges feminist historians have posed over the last twenty-five years, concerns the nature of history. It did not take long to realise that the writing of women's historical experience would never be just a matter of putting women back, as if something had just slipped out. What needed to be done was to completely reshape the categories and rethink the ways we write history. One of the conceptual tasks involved in this process has been challenging the dichotomy of 'public' and 'private'. History has traditionally concerned itself with public events-wars, depressions, politics and so on, the quest narratives-privileging these over the concerns of the so-called 'private sphere'. This has very conveniently left indigenous people and the poor and women off the record. Feminists have argued that the 'public/private' dichotomy is not a very useful one for understanding women's lives and experiences. In challenging it, whole new areas have been opened for historical analysis: matters such as marriage, divorce, domestic violence, obstetrics, gynaecology, birth control, women's friendships, and sexuality.

If we read Mabel Lincoln's diary in this light, we can see the ways it challenges any neat separation between the public and private spheres. The two came together in Mabel's daily life, but also in her diary: this seemingly private document was publicly aired, and in it the transitory became permanent.

Because the nature of the writing in women's diaries is focused and particular, diaries alert us to the importance of things which have been left out of history books. In particular, they signal the importance of relationships in daily life. Novelists, of course, have been very attuned to this, but historians have remained blind to the significance of the emotional work of building and sustaining relationships as crucial to the health and well-being of a nation. I do not mean just family relationships either, but friendship. Many women, I think, would attest that the survival of their marriage was made possible through the emotional support and sustenance of their women friends. As one writer to the feminist journal The Dawn observed in 1904, 'One might think better of marriage if one's married friends would not confide in one so much. Men are the spice of life but a steady diet of spice is undesirable.' (Dawn, 1 May 1904)

Relationships with men, with women, and with family, feature prominently in the diaries I have studied. This is not to say that the writers reflect endlessly on them, rather that they formed the backdrop of their daily lives and the framework within which their decisions were made. Ida Dawson, for example, was a single woman, the eldest of nine children. She began her diary in 1893 at the age of fourteen and kept it for 62 years. Its 36 volumes include details of her life as a governess in New South Wales and Queensland, her travels to Fiji, Java and South America and the many years she spent living in Sydney. As a single woman, without permanent work or professional training, the family provided her with a major network of support and a sense of identity. In 1920 she received a telegram from her brother in Argentina asking her to go and work as a governess to his children, an opportunity she welcomed, although when there she found the twin roles of relative and employee difficult to negotiate and experienced long periods of loneliness. She longed for her Australian family. She returned to Australia in 1925 and left for Java in 1927 where she worked as a governess and then as a companion to a plantation owner. She was called home during a sister's illness in 1929, her care and attention again required by her family. Three years later another brother called her to far north Queensland to care for his three children following the death of his wife. Ida responded readily but four months after her arrival her father became very ill and the rest of the family telegraphed Oswald: 'Can you spare Ida?' In her diary Ida noted,

Of course that means the end of poor old Dad. I could not face the train journey, & could not get to Sydney before next Thursday, travelling night & day; apart from the unaffordable expense. Father has been a wonderful man, 79, and Friday night was his first ill, in hospital.[sic]' (1 May 1932)

(Uncatalogued MSS, Set 475, Mitchell Library Collection, State Library of New South Wales)

And so while caring for other family members Ida missed her father's funeral, just as she had missed her mother's while in Argentina. She received details of each parent's demise through letters from her siblings and friends, noting of attendants at her father's funeral, 'Marjory mentioned all the names one could wish for'. (15 May 1932) Except, of course, her own.

Through Ida's diary we can discern the overwhelming significance her family played in her life, her readiness to respond to different members in times of need and crisis, and the consequent cost of this to herself. We can perceive a constant tension between the possibilities her family opened to her, especially with travel, the responsibilities it bestowed upon her and thus the sense of significance and identity she derived from it, and yet the restriction, limitations and self-sacrifice demanded of her. Implicit in Ida's experience of her family relationships, is the tension inherent in her early desire 'to be independent and a helper besides', stated at the age of only twenty. The fulfilment of the latter half of this ambition came at the price of her independence. Ida's family was dependent on her, and her response to their need, and the satisfaction she gained through it, came at the cost of her own autonomy.

The story of Ida's life then tells us of the sacrifices and pleasures to be found through relationships with family and the importance of women's emotional and domestic work in sustaining the family unit. Her diary was also central to this, as one of its functions became to record the disparate activities of the family. She recorded letters received and sent, noted the varied movements of her siblings, nieces and nephews, and observations on their health. It is as if through her regular and diligent inscribing of the family members, their wellbeing and whereabouts, she affirmed the family unit, somehow holding it together despite its scattered nature.

In many ways, the lives of women such as Ida Dawson have been explained by historians and contemporary observers alike in terms of their failure to marry. As Carolyn Heilbrun writes, '[t]he choices and pain of women who did not make a man the centre of their lives' are far more difficult to discuss than the lives of women who married, because there are 'no models for the lives they wanted to live, no exemplars, no stories.' (Writing a Woman's Life, The Woman's Press, London, 1989, P. 31) Ida's life, however, challenges us to reconsider the ways in which we write about the lives of single women. Through her diary we can find material for new kinds of stories: we can tell of opportunities lost and sacrifices made, or we can recognise the pleasures and freedoms open to women who were not constrained by the demands of a husband and children.

A more conventional narrative of romance can be found in the diary of Kathleen Hughes. Kathleen was twenty-four when her diary opens in 1937 and working at Paynes Department store in Melbourne. Kathleen presented herself in her diary as the romantic heroine of her own life, and her regular entries construct a tale of romance, filled with suspense, drama and declarations of love. Several of the key incidents are constructed as if for a movie screen, reflecting, no doubt, the growing influence of the cinema on women's construction of their lives. Some of them also reveal a delightful sense of humour. In one incident, she was quite happy to exploit a man's interest in her: 'Doug told me that he had fallen for me-got romantic but I wasn't keen, he was quite a decent boy but the car was my interest.' (19 July 1937. Diary held in private collection) Kathleen had no time for unwanted attention, especially the sort that demanded from her a more engaged response. The next evening she dismissed Doug's declarations of love as 'silly' and summed up their dates quite candidly: 'I got some nice drives and suppers for nothing.'(20 July 1937)

At the end of each year Kathleen noted the number of men she had been out with and the details of how many times she wore particular dresses, her gold lamé frock being her favourite. Kathleen met Stuart Robertson in 1937, at the age of twenty-five, and her diary tells of their unfolding romance, the pinnacle of which, for Kathleen, was marriage. They met at the annual ball of Paynes. She had gone accompanied by Ron, on what she openly acknowledged was her foray into 'golddigging', a contemporary term for women who dated more with an eye to the wealth of their partner than anything else. When at the ball, Ron was busy getting drink from the bar, Stuart materialised and asked her for a dance, during which they escaped to St Kilda beach. The waterfront scene set the tone of the romance: 'we went out over the esplanade & down to the archway & Stuart took me in his arms & kissed me-Stuart said he thought all his birthdays had come at once I felt rather het up myself' (10 August 1937). In this fairly explicit description of sexual desire (it was only after the encounter that they stopped to discover each other's names), Kathleen portrayed herself as central to the drama. She was the focus of Stuart's interest, the centre of the story.

Stuart and Kathleen's relationship developed quickly after this first, promising, meeting. Only a month later she was pronouncing him to be 'the nearest approach to my ideal yet' (8 September 1937). After another month, declarations of love were in order. They were again at a ball and after a jealous remark from Stuart,

'a most important thing happened-Stuart told me he loved me ... he said 'It's only because I love you'-said it three times-was so thrilled I could only say 'Oh Stuart', we didn't take any notice of anyone else-both thrilled-... then Stuart and I went for a walk over to the beach to 'our spot'-told me I would grow to love him-knew then that I did but didn't tell him-had our photos taken at the ball-wore my gold lamé frock-Stuart stood waiting for me at bottom of the stairway leading up to the ballroom after it was over, & as I saw him standing there with his blue overcoat and blue & grey silk scarf on, I thought how lucky I was to have him inlove with me-had a marvellous night & it is one I'll always remember.' (6 October 1937)

On the following night it was Kathleen's turn to reveal all, although this time the setting was domestic: 'while we were on the couch I told Stuart I loved him-from now on Stuart & I belong to each other.' (7 October 1937) When Kathleen wrote at the end of the year in which she met Stuart, 'falling in love with Stuart was the most marvellous thing to happen to me-found myself at last & feel contented with life', (31 December 1937) she was reflecting an idea that women were somehow incomplete without men, and that it was through the right man that a woman would come to understand herself.

It was a further three and a half years before Kathleen and Stuart became engaged. For her the story of romance had been a fulfilling one: 'Stuart and I became engaged-most important event in our lives to date ... we both feel that our engagement is the first of the many wonderful events we expect to fulfil together throughout our lives. (10 January 1941) The entry marks the end of her diary: her story of romance had reached its obvious conclusion and in the way of all romances, the details of their life together are left up to the imagination of the reader.

Other diarists were more expansive. Of the diarists I have studied, Una Falkiner wrote the most about her husband, Otway. Una wrote her diary with a keen eye to its future audience and she was acutely conscious of its value as a social artefact. An upperclass woman married to the wealthy pastoralist Otway Falkiner, the 101 volumes of Una's diary, plus hundreds of news clippings, letters and memorabilia, are testament to Una's belief in the significance of her life and its interest for future historians. Generally Una was very circumspect in how much she gave away about her feelings, and no doubt her belief that her diary would have later readers prevented her from revealing too much. It is possible, however, to chart periods of tension and ambivalence, and at times her few words conceal a power of emotion. Una gained significant social standing from her position as Otway's wife and mistress of the large Widgewa station. She had a considerable amount invested in the appearance of their marriage, an investment Otway did not need to share: his social standing and power came directly through his wealth and prestige. Otway in fact actively discouraged Una from pursuing many of her own interests, and particularly from making any money from them.

Perhaps most disappointing of all for Una was Otway's attitude to the trolley she had designed for women to wheel their washing to the clothes line. Una had great hopes for the success of this trolley. She had the design approved by the Patents office in 1920, and by 1925, along with another woman and a couple of men, she set up a company to make and market her invention, which she called 'wheelyrwork'. She delighted in the thought of her own income, but Otway was not so enchanted. In April 1926, just as the enterprise was beginning to take off, she wrote:

Otway came in as I was finishing my breakfast & he wants me to give up active business in my precious & interesting 'wheel-yr-work', it is like giving up a baby! but these husbands must be propitiated! so Lance & Powell are going to direct its wheels across the continent. (23 April 1926)

(ML MSS 423 / 1-113, and ML MSS 4342, ML 1725/78, Boxes 1-7, Mitchell Library Collection, State Library of New South Wales)

Una's disappointment is only thinly disguised here by her feigned willingness to appease Otway, and the consolation that others would continue the work. As one who had already known the grief of losing a child, she did not idly equate this with the relinquishment of her project. These were strong words from Una. She had nurtured the idea of the success of her invention for many years, and had gone to considerable lengths to establish the viability of the enterprise. The project was indeed 'precious' to Una, an area of her own interest. Giving it up was a cause for grief and disappointment. It was also an occasion for her to reveal overtly the way Otway could exercise power in their relationship and to suggest its effect on her more subtly. She did not willingly accept his power over her, yet while she could challenge his decisions, she could not contravene his wishes.

The trolley later became widely used by women in Australia but, unlike the much more widely publicised Hills Hoist, knowledge of Una's technological creativity was buried. For her part, she ensured its survival through her diary and, in the context of considerable conflict with Otway, allowed her own desires and disappointments to be known while still maintaining the appearance of a submissive and dutiful wife. It was a fragile balance, controlled and sustained through the pages of her diary.

Perhaps fortunately for Una, Otway was often not around to interfere with her plans. The Australian Dictionary of Biography describes Otway Falkiner as a 'playboy and a strange mixture of authoritarianism, gruffness, crudity and kindness'. (Vol 8: 1891-1939, Melbourne University Press, 1981, P. 465) The comment sheds some light on Una's relationship with him, and his treatment of her. While he was free to exercise his own desires, hers were severely curtailed. He would often go off to Sydney or travelling on business, leaving Una with little or no idea of when he would return.

It would be misrepresenting Una to suggest that these feelings dominated her diary and her relationship with Otway. She unquestionably felt very genuine affection for him, and her pain at his thoughtlessness or authoritarian manner was no doubt deepened because of her fondness for him.

One place where Una did allow tensions within her relationship with Otway to be expressed, was the garden. Management of the station homestead was Una's responsibility and as the first impression visitors would receive of the homestead was through the glory of the garden, the picture it created was of considerable importance. This was the external face of the house, the place of entry into the domain over which Una had control. The garden at Widgewa was one of Una's great joys. She tended it carefully, pruning and planting as the seasons dictated. Una's vision of the garden, however, both present and future, and the qualities she looked for in those who worked it, were very different from Otway's. She sought to extend the house into the garden, he the station to the homestead. They met head on.

In Una's diary the garden assumed a symbolic status as the site for their conflicts and power struggles. As both a public and domestic space, midway between the house and the property, the garden carried different meanings for Una and Otway. The battles they fought over it were for authority and control, played out over both what went into the garden, and who would tend it.

'I was also worried about losing my gardener, who understands his job & has the garden looking beautiful, but Otway doesn't like him & says he is no good on the electric light & engine for pumping. The new man I can see only understands engines.' (12 October 1920)

If Otway appointed the gardeners, then his word would be law; Una resisted him this place of power. Her vision of the garden was as a retreat, a place of beauty and joy. It was a buffer zone between the house and the world of sheep, horses, manure and making money. For Otway, the garden differed little from the paddocks beyond its fence: it should be a useful place, neat and functional. The different perceptions Una and Otway held towards the garden, were crystallised by the comments of an ex-gardener Una recorded in her diary. Tom had been one of Una's favourite gardeners: she thought him one of 'nature's gentlemen' and very humorous company. Otway, however, did not like him. Tom turned up one day, wanting his job back.

'Yes, Mrs F. I have been all round your garden & by gum! it needs old Tom's touch! You like a garden I know! & the Boss, with all due respect to him! he don't know nothink about 'em!

Of course you wouldn't expect him to!

All he wants is a bloomin' neat footpath! & as long as 'e 'as that! the gardin' is all right!! to improve matters, he might like to see a ewe or a ram tied to a rose bush!

Well, I'll come around in the morning & you see what you can do. Yes! We two has a good respect for each other! all right. (18 July 1927)

Una sought allies in her workmen, practising a little insubordination and attempting to establish the garden as her own. In her diary she constructed herself as the partner who knew and understood gardens. She fought to maintain her control over it, a demonstration of her influence on the Falkiner estate.

The garden became symbolic in Una's diary for it was through her recording of the conflicts that she and Otway experienced over it that she revealed the source of other conflicts in their relationship. Otway resisted all Una's other attempts to create a more public and independent life for herself. The activities he allowed her to engage in were those considered appropriately feminine and in no way a form of challenge to his power and status. If Una were to be allowed to exercise her free will when it came to the garden, she would create a public demonstration of her skill and ability. The garden would stand as separate from the surrounding paddocks, connected more intimately to the house than to the property. Otway wished Una to remain as bound to the domestic sphere as he could keep her, and he contested her intrusions into more public spaces. Una, however, remained quite defiant. Through her regular comments on the beauty of the Widgewa garden, and her delight in its vision of splendour, she implicitly confirmed the influence she held there, allowing her diary to reflect the small pockets of control she was able to retain within their relationship.

I began by posing the questions of how the stories we have of women in the past can challenge our notion of what history is, and how we might fashion new stories from old tales. Women's writing turns the traditional criteria of what is considered historically important on its head. It insists on the significance of individual subjectivity, on the importance of relationships in both individual and collective life. It works to break down the opposition between public and private life, and also blurs any clear dividing line between the past and the present. Women's diary writing also provides us with stories of women in the past who, while not particularly famous, struggled in their own lives to negotiate the conflicting demands on women. It might be that the romance plot is still the most enduring narrative within which women seek to create and understand their lives, but there are other stories and other plots available. Increasingly we are hearing from Aboriginal writers which tell very different tales about survival and adaptation and resilience and love. From ethnic minority women we hear of exploitation, longing, adjustment and hope. And from 'this diary writing that does not count as writing' we can find tales of courage and negotiation, compromise and resistance.

Most importantly, we find women searching and experimenting with their own voice. In diaries women become the subjects of their own lives and they can tell their own story. As Drusilla Modjeska writes of Poppy, she finally 'found a voice that narrates, orders, considers and reconsiders, backtracks and gives life to a story and a story to her life.' (Poppy, McPhee Gribble, 1990, p. 4) I believe this is just what happens in women's diary writing. Diarists found ways of shaping their stories and their lives. While diary writing may be seen as a place where the voice is kept secret and silent, I would prefer to see it as a trial run. Just as Penelope wove and unwove her shroud, searching, if you like, for the right way to tell her life, so diaries have offered women a safe place in which they might find their story, find their voice.

Penelope had a new story to tell, a story, Heilbrun suggests, 'of a woman's choice, her anxiety and her terror.' When Odysseus returned after ten years of war and ten years of wandering, before recounting his own tales he listened to Penelope's story, 'The story of a woman who, staying at home, had travelled to a new place of experience, had created a new narrative, who had been able, finally to stop unweaving and invent a new story.' (Hamlet's Mother and Other Women, p. 130) And when, finally, we stop telling tales of war and heroic feats of discovery and adventure, we might find that the stories women have been telling throughout their lives, change forever the past as we have known it. When we have learnt to see the past differently, we might then be able to imagine alternative futures; but let's not wait for the return of the hero.

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