Valuable imperfections


By Zelda D'Aprano
Spinifex, 1995. 408 pp.
Reviewed by Trish Corcoran
"Working-class women very rarely write books because of our inability to write at the level required by male established literary standards. Nor are many books written about the lives of working-class women because our lives are considered to be too humdrum ...

"I have written this autobiography without the assistance of a ghost writer and with all my imperfections as a writer. Should men or their power structures, now or in the future, destroy a woman because she dares to write truthfully of her experiences and involvement in society, we will know why women are absent from history", states Zelda in the preface of her autobiography.

What Zelda calls her "imperfections" are a part of the make-up of her autobiography. It is accessible, warm and involving. Her story is the story of a working-class woman, and it is fascinating. Traditionally, history is portrayed as being made by great individuals, usually men. Zelda is a reminder that history is made up of "ordinary" people who all have stories to tell.

Zelda not only paints the picture of the life of its author but also contains a large amount of material for the history of the period. A theme throughout the autobiography is that the personal is political. This is a theme that Zelda seems to have adopted in her understanding of society.

Zelda herself was born in 1928 into a poverty-stricken working-class family living in Carlton, Melbourne. She grew up during the period of World War II. Always aware of poverty and class differences, she joined the Communist Party when she was 21. This was just before the beginning of the Cold War. One of the first campaigns she participated in as a member of the CPA was in response to the McCarthyite anti-communist campaign.

Zelda describes her experiences in the many different sectors that she has worked in. She was involved in the union movement when the Democratic Labor Party split from the Australian Labor Party. There are many interesting aspects of her involvement in the union movement, both right-wing and left-wing unions.

Zelda was a part of making history, in particular with her involvement in the second wave of the feminist movement. She wasn't afraid to put herself out on a limb when campaigning for the rights of women. She was a well-known face for the media: chaining herself to the Commonwealth Building in Melbourne, demanding equal pay for women was one example. Her high profile kept her out of work for some time.

Zelda reflects on her life as a worker who has become aware of her oppression as a woman. In this sense, her autobiography is also a testament to gains that women have made — not only the gains of equal pay, but gains that have improved the personal lives of women as well.

Zelda motivates us not only to reflect, but also to be involved in society, and to impact on history as it is being made, as Zelda herself has done.