What a delightful and engaging read this compact but rich and rewarding text
offers. Oral history is the perfect vehicle for assembling, tracing and telling
(again) the narratives of life once lived by a cohort of Australian women who one
day in 1964 found themselves beginning life as indentured students of nursing.
As has been well established by many scholars, nursing is deeply and properly, an
oral culture. 'Contradictory Stories' beautifully exemplifies this truth.
Gathering together a now well-dispersed but surprisingly sizable cohort from her
original mid-sixties sorority, Brennan crafts from their ‘narrative rememberings’
a scrupulously referenced and detailed yet never overwrought collection of
vignettes, recollections, shared memories and disparate analyses of life in
‘PTS’, ‘on the wards’, ‘in the home’ and, finally, somewhere well beyond. As I
turned the pages those spaces/places of my training days were gently resuscitated
so easy was it to resonate with these women’s nuanced descriptions and vivid
recounting of individual and collective journeys to registered nurse. As the
story-telling draws to a close one cannot but be impressed by the ways their
experiences as novice nurses insinuated themselves deep into the fabric of their
lives as women, wives and mothers.
This charming exemplar of oral history at work is a must for anyone wanting to
connect with another time and set of challenges and imperatives. I will certainly
add ’Contradictory Stories’ to my list of readings for any student who needs or
wants to better understand the traditions and shibboleths of the nursing
profession. But for the lay reader too, there is much to be mined from this
volume so specific, yet universal, are many of the themes it embodies.