31 days of reading ideas for you
Day 3: Each day of January we will publish an extract of a book by an Australian author. Today’s extract is from Victoria Purman, the author of a number of acclaimed books including The Land Girls. In her newest book, The Women’s Pages, Victoria explores the challenges faced by a group of female friends after war ended in 1945.
The Sun, 15 August 1945
The day the war ended, Tilly Galloway sat at her desk on the
second floor of the Daily Herald building in Sydney’s Pitt
Street and cried with delirious joy.
She held a sodden handkerchief in her left hand, smeared
with what was left of her foundation and mascara, and a
cigarette was gripped tightly between the middle and index
fingers of her right, the imprint of her Regimental Red
Helena Rubinstein lipstick like a kiss on the cork tip end.
She dragged hard, filling her lungs with heat and smoke, and
her blood with the rush that had kept her going for so long
now she couldn’t imagine getting through a day without
it. When the tears stopped, when her shoulders stopped
shaking, she lit another from the butt of her fourth that
morning and leant back in her chair, eyes closed, feeling her
heart knock against her ribs.
The whole bloody thing was really over.
She opened her eyes with a quick blink as the cacophonous
sounds of victory swept right through her. The phone next
to her typewriter rang but it took her a moment to hear it
amid the crying and shrieking laughter all around her in the
women’s newsroom. She tugged off her marquasite earring,
reached for the black receiver and pressed it to her ear.
A song blared from the wireless in the corner — something
triumphant with trumpets and stirring strings — and her
colleagues, police reporter Maggie Pritchard and Frances
Langley from courts, were spinning each other around an
imaginary dance floor, Maggie’s blonde curls bouncing at
her shoulders and Frances’s glasses slipping to the end of
her large nose and in danger of toppling to the floor as they
threw their heads back gaily and hooted and hollered.
‘Hello? Are you there?’
Tilly looked back across the sea of empty desks and
abandoned Remingtons. Cups of tea were going cold.
Someone had pushed open one of the windows overlooking
Pitt Street and a gust of wind whipped through the floor
and unsettled stacks of copy paper, which swirled into the
air like joyously thrown wedding confetti.
‘I’m having trouble hearing you, whoever you are,’ she
yelled down the line. ‘In case you haven’t heard, the war’s
over. We’re celebrating.’ Tilly puffed on her cigarette and
flicked the ash into an overflowing ashtray on her desk.
‘Tilly! Can you hear me now?’ Tilly recognised the voice
of her flatmate and dearest friend, Mary.
She covered her free ear with a cupped hand. ‘I can
barely hear you, Mary.’
‘Can you really believe it’s over?’
Agony aunt Betty Norris, always called Dear Agatha on
account of it being the name of the column the newspaper
had been running since the dawn of time, beckoned Tilly
to the wireless. ‘The prime minister’s about to speak,’ she
implored, then stopped and cleared her throat, her voice
choking with emotion and her eyes filled with tears. ‘Hurry!’
‘Wait on, Mary. Chifley’s on. I’ll call you back as soon
as I can.’ Tilly dropped the receiver into the phone’s cradle
with a hard thunk, grabbed her ashtray and ran over to join
the huddle around the wireless.
Tilly and Mary had left their Potts Point flat so early that
morning that Kings Cross had still been asleep. They’d been
too excited to stay in bed, as rumours had swirled for days
that the war in the Pacific might be over that very day and
they hadn’t wanted to miss a minute of it. As they’d walked
hurriedly through Hyde Park — they were far too excited
to stand in the crush on the tram — and then all the way
down Pitt Street to the Daily Herald building, expectation
had crackled in the winter air. Nine days before, the B-29
Superfortress bomber, the Enola Gay, had dropped an atomic
bomb on Hiroshima. The bomb was codenamed Little Boy
and Tilly had tried not to think about such an innocent
name being used for a weapon of such destruction. And
then another dropped, three days after that, on Nagasaki.
The war had been over in Europe since May, but the
Japanese had fought on in the Pacific until the bombs had
all but wiped out two entire cities.
Now, after so much devastation and loss and grief, the
end felt close, real, final.
Maggie slipped two fingers in the corners of her mouth
and let fly a piercing sound. Frances laughed and elbowed
Maggie in the ribs. Just then, fashion editor Kitty Darling
arrived and sashayed directly over to her colleagues. ‘It is
true? Everyone on the street is saying it’s over.’
Tilly nodded. ‘Yes. It’s about to be announced.’
The Women’s Pages published by Harper Collins is available now.