Current Research Notes: Going to London


Ian Willis is preparing papers for two conferences: the 2019 Australian Historical Association conference and the 2019 Redefining Australia and New Zealand at the University of Warsaw

Thousands of young single Australian-born women travelled to London and beyond from the mid-to-late 19th century.  This pilgrimage, as historian Angela Woollacott has called it, was a life-changing journey for these women. They were both tourist and traveller and many worked their passage throughout their journey.

These young women were both insiders and outsiders, both colonials and part of the heritage of colonisers. The dichotomy of their position provides an interesting position as they explored the transnational relationship between Australia and the UK.

In the 19th century colonial-born women from well-off families went husband-hunting in England. By the early 20th century the list of women travelling to the United Kingdom started to include creative-types including actors, writers, artists, musicians, and singers; one of the most famous being Dame Nellie Melba.

In the mid-20th century following the Second World War young working women from modest backgrounds started to explore the world and head for London. Ian Willis is investigating the journey of one such person, Shirley Dunk, who in 1954 travelled from the small community of Camden in New South Wales, to the United Kingdom with her best friend and work colleague, Beth Jackman. Ian has access to Shirley’s journey archive, which consists of personal letters, diaries, photographs, scrapbooks, ship menus and other ephemera. Shirley’s letters home were reported in the country press and were reminiscent of soldier’s wartime letters when they acted as tourists in foreign lands.

Ian is exploring how Shirley was subject to the forces of urbanism, modernity and consumerism at a time when rural women were presented with representations of domesticity and other ‘ideal’ gender stereotypes.

You can hear more at the AHA conference in Toowoomba.

Image: The Tower of London was a popular tourist attraction for young Australian born women who travelled to London and beyond. These women acted as both tourist and traveller in their journey of exploration.  (P Pikous, 2006)

[This post is drawn from Ian Willis’ blog, Camden History  Notes]

2 thoughts on “Current Research Notes: Going to London”

  1. One of those artists was Hilda Rix Nicholas and her sister, Elsie Rix. They travelled to London, Paris and Morocco before World War I. Interesting topic. My cousin, Jean Hornery, travelled from Windsor NSW to work in Port Moresby in about 1950, then set off for England with a friend to work at Australia House in London for 2 years, returning in early 1950s. Very similar circumstances to Shirley. Thanks, Carol.

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