REBECCA ALBECK: You’ve said life in your home is “chaos”. With the volume of work that you manage: how do you organise a busy family and social life?
CLARE WRIGHT: I’m very focused on whatever I’m doing at the point when I’m doing it. I’m organised and methodical…when I’m working I’m really just working. I can’t write at home. I do other things around the edges of work: the things that a PA would do—the detritus of living a public life… email and all that. But if I have to research, write, read, I can’t do that from home. Fortunately I have an office at La Trobe uni. That’s my zone: once I go into it I can stay there for very long stretches of time.
I have a lot of support. It’s very difficult for women to have their own careers when their husband has the ‘big-ticket’ career in terms of being salaried and the major breadwinner, or works in a situation with inflexible work practices. That makes it hard for women to ever have their own professional identity. My husband Damien’s work is not like that, so it’s a shared load. I’ve just never known any other way: I had two babies while I did my PhD. My whole work life has been a juggle.
How did you make that decision?
[Laughs] I didn’t! I was diagnosed as infertile after trying to get pregnant for three years. The gynaecologist told me to think about what else I might want to do with my life if I wasn’t going to have a family. So I got a PhD scholarship. Three months later I was pregnant. I took a year off after the birth, went back to work and was four months pregnant again before I even knew it.
So there I was doing a PhD with two babies.
But you didn’t abandon the PhD, as many people might have.
It was bloody hard work. My husband was just establishing his business as a furniture maker. We didn’t have two sticks to rub together. My scholarship was integral to our family economy.
Noah is my second son, he’s 15. Bernie my eldest is 17 and my daughter Esther is nine. She came along at the start of my post-doc, which became Eureka, after another three years of trying. There was no planning. It’s not like I said, ‘Hey! I think having babies and doing a PhD at the same time would be a great idea!’. It’s just always been that way. I think working makes me saner and happier, which makes me a better mother. I think most mothers who work feel that.
In the introduction to The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka you ask why no one before considered the role of women in the Eureka rebellion. As you put it, ‘Where are we in this story?’ Was that the question you asked in writing the book?
There’s a way in which women internalise their silence, that idea that they are not the primary actors in any given situation and therefore they don’t have a certain kind of agency. It might be political agency, historical agency. If you raise your voice, you’re shrill, you’re complaining, aggressive, you’re everything that women aren’t supposed to be. In the 19th century Australian suffragists were referred to as the “screaming sisterhood” and there are still elements of that: women being criticised for whingeing. You can be accused of being “feminist,” having an underlying political agenda that is “feminism”… it’s still “not nice” for women and girls to be questioning, brash, loud, or demanding in any way.
I think that’s why questions like “where are we in this story?” don’t get asked.
One of the things that I wanted to do, once I knew it was historically authentic, was to provide role models for girls, about how women in the past behaved that made a difference. Not by the way they looked, not by sexual power and not by any backroom or manipulative means but by sticking their necks out, raising their voices and proclaiming the rights of their community, not just women’s rights…