Ventura Press, Australia, 2020
Memoir is an interesting form of writing, as one always speculates what has been left unsaid. In A Particular Woman, we fancy this is also true but Ashley Dawson-Damer has generously shared a great deal.
She speaks with honesty and heart about many aspects and periods of her life and times (she was born in 1945, as she once proudly announced in a Board meeting, when her capacity and experience were subtly called into doubt).
In exploring the most challenging times of her life, the author allows us a very clear insight into what drives her, whether that be in family matters or in her professional life.
She’s had her fair share of tragedy, trial and grief with miscarriages, a not entirely satisfactory first marriage, disappointments and disputes in relationships, the death of her husband of 18 years, historic car racing identity the Hon. John Dawson-Damer. What dominates in this account of a life is Ashley’s energy, her belief in hard work and her commitment to whatever it is she tackles, despite or perhaps because it is a bit daunting.
The value she places on education and application are also very clear, along with a deep and lifelong commitment to health and nutrition. Family is always central in this story, but so too is the voice of and for women, a nod to a half century of history of compromise and persistence in the way women lead their lives – with full plates and constant exhaustion. None of this carries a sense of martyrdom, however. It is stated baldly as the way things are and have been – and what we can do to change things for the better.
This is Ashley Dawson-Damer’s motivation for her membership of many of the country’s leading arts boards (NIDA, NGA, Opera Australia, the Art Gallery of NSW, the Festival of Sydney) – the desire to bring justice for those without a voice, to make the arts and all their joys and beauties available to everyone in Australia.
Moving in the heady corridors of power is not an end in itself, we gather, though the tussles and determination which are part of the quest to raise funds and raise consciousness are not unwelcome. We fancy that she never shirks the fight if the reason is good enough. Afternoons spent baking scones or cakes for school fund-raisers were equally important.
Historically this memoir leads us through the second half of the 20th century and parts of it will resonate with Boomers. Pared back, many will also identify with some of the experiences the author recounts – perhaps the scale will be different, but the heart of the matter will be recognisable. Ashley Dawson-Damer gives us a glimpse of a large life, a Renaissance woman who can turn her willing hand to things great and small.
A Particular Woman was an interesting and absorbing read, which illustrated rather well for me how much we all have in common despite great distances and disparities between our live and those of others. My thanks to Ventura Press for providing me with a review copy and to DMCPR for facilitating an interview.