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From Cheshire to Canberra—a mother’s extraordinary life revealed

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Who is better placed to tell stories of courageous mothers than the daughters that they raise?

First-time author Jennifer McMullan has fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition to commit her mother’s incredible story to the page in A Good Girl…Seldom, which was recently published by Ginninderra Press.

She said she had two reasons to do so—firstly to make public Annie Gidman’s grit, courage and positive attitude to life as encouragement to others facing personal battles, but also to expose the vast deprivations her mother experienced during the Second World War and beyond, compared to the relative luxury Jenni’s grandchildren now take for granted.

Author Jenni McMullan has published the story of her extraordinary mother’s life in A Good Girl…Seldom. Credit: Martin Ollman.

“There are just two generations separating my mother from my grandchildren—yet they could not be living more different lives. My grandchildren sleep under feather doonas and wake up to hot showers and flushing toilets.

“My mother slept under her coat, lived in a house with one tap delivering cold water only, and shared the toilet with her street, including the neighbour’s house of 13. She knew the feeling of constant hunger.”

Jenni, the former State Manager for Victoria responsible for delivering the Federal Election on behalf of the Australian Electoral Commission, always told her mother Annie that she would write a book about her life, and the two spent many hours committing important parts of that story to voice recordings in the years before Annie died in 2003.

The rest of the story comes from Jenni’s embedded memories, the stories she heard from childhood, family oral history and meticulous historical research she took to piece the story together as faithfully as she could.

Set largely in Macclesfield Cheshire in the pre and post-war years, the story is a first-person account of Annie Gidman’s survival against the poverty and hardship of her times, and the cruelty of an alcoholic mother.

While she would escape her mother as an adult, she would marry a man scarred by his war service and also dependent on alcohol to blunt the memories.

Yet Annie shows a strong survival instinct early on, learning to hide the family’s scant income to avoid it being spent down at the local, and to avoid her mother’s most vitriolic outbursts. She is endlessly resourceful and at the age of just eight, when the hunger pangs are unbearable one day, she sets about earning enough coins from odd jobs to buy and cook a rabbit and apple pie for her sisters.

Despite her obvious academic aptitude, Annie is forced from school at age 14 to begin work. But she shows an entrepreneurial streak and a work ethic that eventually sees her start her own shop, and she would go on to operate a large café and restaurant before eventually migrating to Australia as a ten-pound Pom.

Along the way she would fence diamonds from Holland, protect an abortionist, charm American servicemen, and take on lovers. She was a good girl, seldom, but a determined feminist who made a better life for herself and her children.

Annie eventually settled in Canberra, working as a housemother at the Canberra Girls’ Grammar School Boarding House and eventually finding another partner Phil, before living her final years down at the South Coast.

Jenni’s book is a glimpse into times past and a rollicking good story which reveals Annie’s verve, courage and strong moral compass.

Jenni said she hoped that the book would bring historical detail to life for younger generations but also inspire people to follow her mother’s example of always working hard, looking at the bright side, and erring on the side of kindness.

At Annie’s funeral, Jenni spoke of Albert Facey’s book, A Fortunate Life, and how he was an ordinary man who lived through extraordinary times and in doing so became extraordinary himself. Similarly,  Annie’s story charts an ordinary life—living, surviving and blossoming—through extraordinary times.

A Good Girl…Seldom is available here on Amazon.

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