Monday, January 2, 2023

PEARLS - by Angela Schaffer - Book Review.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

While many people found the Covid lock-down period alienating and difficult to cope with, for others it was a period of stimulation and opportunity. Among the latter is travel writer and photographer, Angela Schaffer, who had been ruminating on producing a book like “Pearls” for years.   

When her daughter Liz, the founder and editor of Lodestar Anthology magazine, decided to return to Australia from London during the pandemic, Schaffer saw it as an opportunity, not only to share some valuable mother/daughter time with Liz, but also to bring her dream to fruition. Confined to New South Wales because of travel restrictions, Angela and Liz travelled the length and breadth of the state interviewing successful women. Some Angela had met previously as a travel writer while others had been recommended by friends.

The result is a superb coffee table book entitled “Pearls”, a collection of candid, thought-provoking interviews with 41 remarkable women, all with astonishingly varied backgrounds and experiences.

Not all the women featured in the book are as well-known as Kathryn Greiner, but each has an absorbing story to tell not only about their achievements, but about their different life choices, learnt lessons and influences.   

Kathryn Greiner for instance talks enthusiastically about her work as Chair of the NSW Ministerial Advisory Council for the Ageing. She reveals what drew her to MACA and what she wants to achieve while in her role as Chair.  She also shares a delightful story about the late Queen Elizabeth. Greiner reveals that when asked to be “Granny of the Year”, the Queen politely declined the role. Through her Private Secretary she advised that she had always said that you’re only as old as you feel, and maintained that at 95, she didn’t yet feel that she was old.

74 year old Buddhist, stripper, performer, grandmother ELIZABETH BURTON one  the interviewees featured in "Pearls". 

Each story in the book is prefaced by an introduction written by Schaffer which sets the scene for the interview. Then, set out in a question and answer format, the actual interview allows each interviewee to speak for herself in her own voice, capturing each’s unique turn of phrase and method of expressing herself. The interviews are lavishly illustrated with superb full-page photographs, often the work of Schaffer herself, but also including contributions by other well-known photographers.  

Among the other interviewees, Sydney Designer, Sally Jackson, the creator of “The Bowerbirds’ Collection” which has been exhibited at the Powerhouse Museum, explains what drives her fascination for making spectacular wearable fashion from second-hand clothes and vintage textiles.

Pip Brett explains why, after completing a Bachelor of Design in fashion and textiles, she decided to exploit her flair for marketing and open a homewares shop in the NSW town of Orange which she called Jumbled and which has now become a mecca for fashion, art and homewares.

A phone call by her Dad to Opera Australia opened the doorway for self-styled ‘home sewer’, Rebecca Ritchie, to forge a career making costumes for spectacular opera productions. Now Wigs and Wardrobe Manager for Opera Australia, Ritchie talks of her joy in solving challenges involved in realising the ideas of imaginative designers from around the world.

Ritchie reveals that she did baulk at washing her costumes in urine for a particular production. Apparently this was the method used to clean clothes in Shakespearean times, and was suggested by one designer in her quest for absolute authenticity for her designs.

Similar revelations are scattered throughout the absorbing interviews of other interviewees as varied as  astrophysicist, Kirsten Banks, who shares her love of science through TikTok; wheelchair Paralympian, Christie Dawes; zookeeper at Mogo Wildlife Park, Lisa Payne; sexologist, Jodi Rodgers and Beekeeper, Vicky Brown.

Mogo Wild Life Park zookeeper - LISA PAYNE - one of the interviewees featured in "Pearls".

A personal favourite of this reviewer is 74 year-old Buddhist, stripper, performer and grandmother, Elizabeth Burton, who shares her mantra ‘ mastication, masturbation, meditation and mobility” together with some disarmingly frank and unapologetic details of her well-lived life in the very first interview in the book. Sadly Burton died before the book was published.

For anyone interested in how other people lead their lives, “Pearls” is the perfect holiday read. No matter where you open it you’ll find a story to entertain, inspire and intrigue. Alternatively, if you’re not in the mood to read, you can just rest your eyes on any one of the dozens of superbly reproduced photographs.

Surprisingly for such a gorgeously produced book, it does not contain an index of the interviews, which would have made it so much easier to go back and re-read favourite entries. You’ll certainly want to do that.

“Pearls” - Published in 2022 by This Is Magazine Ltd. Printed in Australia by Ive Group. Hardback, 280 pages.

                                                   Cover image by Laura Reid    

                        Lisa Payne and Elizabeth Burton images by Thomas James Parrish

Available in Canberra at Paperchain, Manuka; The Australian National Gallery Shop or direct from the author


This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.