This fourth compilation of epistles in the ‘Women of Letters’ franchise (the editors may well hate that term) is now not only an Australian phenomenon, but is spreading its wings internationally as well. Hardy and McGuire sold out NYC, which now has monthly performances, with a tour of their concept also completed of the UK. What started out as a small time effort to raise a bit of dough for a local animal welfare charity has captured hearts all around the nation. I was in a Hobart audience a while back and the duo had the format down pat. It was a night of laughter and tears. If one of their live performances comes to a venue near you, do make the effort to attend.
The volume in question – there has been an international edition since – has all the faults of its predecessors – there are still the try-hards and still some drivel. But overwhelmingly most letters contained within speak from the heart, some even quite intimate in nature. The editors have by now reached the conclusion that part of the reason for the success of these books, as well as their live source, is that, in letters, there is a sense of safety not present on social media. The shows have a rigorous no recording policy and the readers involved all need to give permission for publication. The audience for both would not be the milieu for trolls in any case, I would have thought.
The edition in question is bookended with poignancy. First cab off the rank is the magnificent Stella Young, composing a letter to her octogenarian self – ‘By the time I get to you I’ll have written things that change the way people think about disability. I’ll have been part of a strong, beautiful movement of disabled people in Australia.’ And arguably, along with the marvellous ‘The Last Leg’, she, at thirty-two, already has. Sadly a few weeks after publication of this book our gorgeous advocate for crips – her word, not mine – died suddenly. Very early on in the history of ‘W of L’ she had forthrightly stated that the organisers had better find a wheelchair-friendly venue for the live version or face her wrath. The two convenors did so immediately and the spirited Stella became a firm friend of the pair.
The closing letter was by former Greens senator Christine Milne. Once upon a time I was a friend during her uni years and for a time we shared a school staffroom on Tassie’s North West Coast. Her letter was to her former students at Devonport High School and it centred on a book that is very close to my family’s heart – Paul Gallico’s classic ‘The Snow Goose’. My beautiful sister Frith derives her name from that tale.
There was much else to enjoy, such as Chrissie Swan’s encounter with a woman breast feeding in a suburban shopping mall. She was dressed in a bear suit with a flashing neon sign attached to her head warning, ‘Boobs Ahoy’. I love Spiderbait’s drummer Kram’s relating of how the ‘House Husband’/’Play School’ host, Rhys Muldoon, came to be pashing Axyl Rose’s girlfriend at a Melbourne concert of the Gunners. Leading the way for Muslim women in their fight against sexism and for their right to be heard, Susan Carland writes emotively about her love for her son now and into the future. Columnist Amanda Blair, whose mother once tried to match her up with Martin Bryant on a blind date, muses on how much simpler life was for women back in the day – or was it? Angie Hart’s letter to her unborn child is a heart-breaker and I found out two facts about Poh that I didn’t know. One is, would you believe, she’s almost forty. The other is that she is not beyond dropping the f-bomb (but it’s okay, she uses it in describing some cretinous troll). Jess McGuire writes of her totally ‘annus horribilis’, but in doing so demonstrates how even the most dire of circumstances can have an upside. Guitarist for our beloved Go-Betweens, Adele Pickvance, writes engagingly on the difficulties involved for a Brit adjusting to life in Oz. And lastly, in my resume of ‘Between Us’ highlights, is the story of how Sommer Tothill’s life was turned around by the true narrative of her Uncle Rolly’s demise.
There is much, much else to recommend this penultimate addition to the ‘W of L’ list of titles and I bet, once you’ve devoured this glorious omnibus, you’ll be hankering for the other four. Now I think I might take up my pen and write a snail mail missive of my own to my good mate….
Women of Letters website = http://womenofletters.com.au/