Thursday, 6 May 2010

Bobbin up (Hewett) 172

Bobbin up, by Dorothy Hewett, turned out to be a rather successful random ebay purchase. I often look through the ebay listings for Virago Modern Classics and pick titles that I haven't heard of if they don't cost too much money, and this was one of those. Apparently out of print for many years before Virago republished this, this is certainly an unknown book that deserves to be much better known.

Set in Sydney, in the 1950s, whilst the Russians are starting to fly Sputnik, this tale of working class lives and factory girls is very reminiscent of Nell Dunn's Poor Cow and Up the junction. Only its Sydney setting gives it a different edge of interest. The women in the story work at the Jumbuck Woollen Mills, with deplorable working conditions and incredibly frustrating existence. There's not so much story as description and character study but it puts together a fantastic portrait of a group of women desperate for a better existence.

Hewett became involved in the Communist Party in Sydney when she arrived in the city in 1949. She asked to be sent to a job in the worst type of factory possible and was sent to the Alexandria Spinning Wheels which provided the model for the Jumbuck Mill. The character of Nell in the story, an active communist, is heavily based on Hewett herself, and the other characters in the story are based on the people that she met there.

There is an interesting interview with Hewett here, which touches on Bobbin Up.

It's only been published once by Virago, with an early green cover.

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