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 Women's Pages by Victoria Purman.
The Women's Pages by Victoria Purman.

ACT ONE

PEACE

The Sun, 15 August 1945

Chapter One

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.

‘Galloway.’

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.


Landmark $440m settlement for 2011 flood victims

Premium Content Landmark $440m settlement for 2011 flood victims

Queensland flood victims seeking compensation have reached a major milestone

Repeat youth offenders targeted with ‘suite of initiatives'

Premium Content Repeat youth offenders targeted with ‘suite of initiatives'

Commissioner: ‘suite of initiatives’ used to target youth crime

Teen tells cops she knew she’d “be over” after crashing car

Premium Content Teen tells cops she knew she’d “be over” after crashing car

IN COURT: A teenager told police she “knew she would be over” the legal limit when...