A Respectable Married Woman is set in Australia's mid-19th century Victorian goldrush decade, when men and women sailed across roaring oceans in search of a fortune they'd heard lay just below the surface of the rolling hills surrounding the frontier town of Melbourne.
Men left families behind, hoping to return with gold enough to set them up for life; some brought their wives, children in tow, more born along the way. Single women, encouraged by government schemes devised as an alternative to the workhouse, hoped to find work in the gold rich town as governesses, seamstresses or housemaids.
Charlotte Hatfield, barely eighteen, has been sent to make a suitable marriage that would send her back to her titled family a respectable married woman, instead of the unwed mother of her true love's bastard child. Together with a midwife-companion, employed by her father to see her safely delivered and suitably wed to one of the many single English army officers sent to keep order in the golden city, and an Irish orphan rescued on the voyage, Charlotte finds the officer she marries is no gentleman.
Alone and divested of the dowry paid to her new husband, she joins the hordes heading for the goldfields to support her newfound family in whatever way she can. A French banker, a Chinese digger and an American stagecoach driver play their parts in Charlotte's transformation from sheltered society darling to frontier woman of substance, moulded by the challenges and achievements on which she thrives.
A Respectable Married Woman offers insight into the life and times of women in the goldfields. Where they came from, how they coped with the challenges of disconnection from families and friends in their homeland, illness and isolation - and still found the will to build the beginnings of a social infrastructure.
Glenda Banks has been widely published and is the successful author of seven non-fiction books dealing with social issues. She has an extensive mainstream media background as a journalist, editor and broad-caster. Her media campaigns are acknowledged to have contributed to policy changes in women's health, child protection, sexual assault and family law in Australia.
Glenda has lived and worked in the UK, the USA and the Asia-Pacific region and lives in Melbourne, surrounded by many of the historic markers bearing witness to the people and events which shaped this story. She has a PhD in historical fiction and this is her first novel.
A Respectable Married Woman
Author: Glenda Banks
Behind the Writing of the Book
"I came to Australia when I married an Australian and found myself transported from London, where I worked as a journalist, to rural Victoria. On a day trip to Walhalla - then a virtual ghost town - I came upon the remains of a slab hut - abandoned, I learned, when the gold in the area ran out more than 100 years before. As I stood inside I tried to imagine living with my children in the dirt-floored space no bigger than our kitchen, the wind whistling off the surrounding hills through the gaps in the walls.
A few years later, I came across the Blackwood Hotel, then in its third incarnation after two earlier constructs had been razed by fire. The first was run by newly widowed Bridget Cruise as a home for her family and an income to feed them. Her story inspired more than a decade of serious research into the goldfields women, taking me to gold sites and thriving cities established with the gold from the ground on which they now stood.
My research took me to countless one-room country museums, fading photos pinned to the walls. Private journals and letters propped open for all to share. And to city libraries, cultural archives, maritime museums and shipping registers. I was privileged to be given access to family histories, precious letters and artefacts telling their own stories. And as the nation embraced technology, a wealth of documented evidence of the goldfields women's existence became available in charts, licenses and reports which added to the richness of their narrative tapestry.
I have always loved old churches, from the thousand year-old St Mary Magdalene in an English meadow near my godmother's farm, accessed by clambering over a style set in a Yew hedge, to St Peter's, Eastern Hill, in the City of Melbourne - once filled with arrivals praying for good fortune in the goldfields, those others offering thanks for a 'find', some mourning a lost child on their way home. St Peter's and other, smaller, goldfields churches offered insight into the lives of the goldfields women on wall plaques, in fading records of baptisms, marriages and funerals, and heartbreaking dates on the graves of their infants.
In Melbourne, where I live, there is now no evidence of a 'tent city' site or dockside markets but I am surrounded by houses, streets and lanes - architectural artefacts bearing silent witness to the goldrush era and prompting research into the life and times of the goldfields women."
Question: What inspired the story behind A Respectable Married Woman?
Glenda Banks: I came across a crumbling cabin in the hills around Walhalla, Victoria, and learned it was a relic of the goldfields. Standing inside, I imagined trying to raise my children in what was no bigger than our bathroom, with a dirt floor and the wind whipping through the gaps in the walls. The experience inspired me to find out more about the challenges and achievements of women faced with raising families half a world away from family and friends, in an unfamiliar environment and in desperate poverty, with just the hope of a better life. I wanted to open a window on their story of incredible strength and courage.
Question: How did you go about writing a book set in the mid-19th century Victorian goldrush decade?
Glenda Banks: It took more than 10 years of research, reading between the lines of history recording the challenges and achievements of men during the goldrush era. This included travelling throughout the goldfields visiting one-room museums, talking to local historians and poring over diaries, journals and letters inherited by descendants of goldfields families. The State Library and Melbourne Maritime Museum were wonderful resources and, of course, the growing number of family histories published online yielded invaluable detail.
Question: What did you enjoy most about creating the character of Charlotte Hatfield?
Glenda Banks: All the characters in the book are based on real people reacting to real events. Charlotte reflects the reality of the society in which she lived, the consequences of male dominated inheritance laws, and the metamorphosis of a sheltered girl into a strong and self-sufficient woman, driven by the circumstances in which she found herself and her children to not only survive but succeed.
The borrowed setting in which this occurred, the Blackwood Hotel, still exists - albeit in its third incarnation after devastating fires. The original owner, Bridget Cruise, widowed like Charlotte, built the hotel to house her children and provide an income for them. Charlotte's story is not Bridget's - they came from quite different backgrounds, but I found the similarities of purpose between Charlotte and Bridget fascinating.
Bridget's grave, and those of four of her six children, can still be found in the Blackwood Cemetery.
Question: Why is it important to you, that your books focus on key social issues?
Glenda Banks: My nonfiction books were written during my career as a mainstream journalist, and dealt with social issues challenging women at the time they were written. As a journalist, I had access to the decision makers - from politicians to police, medical experts to educators, social therapists and the judiciary. I was able to bridge the gaps and jump the queues to ask the questions that raised awareness of issues demanding attention.
I was, if you like, a widely published go-between.
Question: Can you talk about the work you do for women in the prison system?
Glenda Banks: I am developing a program to improve basic communication skills to better equip them to re-engage with their families and improve their employment prospects on release.
If regards to violence against women by husbands and partners, as well as random acts of violence by strangers, I contribute to encouraging awareness of the prevalence and the need for change by improving the quality and language of communications to targeted groups as well as the wider community.
My interest in increasing awareness of the need for change in the way we view both these issues is pursued through my books and my communications consultancy, crafting messages to best reach selected audiences.
Question: Are you currently working on another book, if so, can you tell us a little bit about it?
Glenda Banks: I have a sequel to A Respectable Married Woman in plan taking the family forward, though the next generation, to Federation. This looks at the consequences of the gold rush, the changing status and expectations of women - in particular Charlotte's daughter by her husband D'Arcy, an English Army officer, and Jade, the Chinese orphan she adopted when the infant's parents died on the goldfields. Both go in search of their roots and identity - as, for different reasons, does Dickon, the son of Charlotte's first love and last husband, Richard. It is left to the grandchildren to bring the family back together on the battlefield at the beginning of WW1.