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Leaving homes, locating selves : stories of women evacuated as children in WWII Britain who immigrated to Australia in the postwar period.
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posted on 16.01.2017by Simmons, Margaret Helen
This thesis explores the ways that women, who were evacuated as children in Britain during the Second World War and who immigrated to Australia in the postwar period, construct their stories of evacuation and migration. The thesis enables an understanding of how women have been positioned as evacuees and migrants and the positions they 'take up' in response to this positioning. As the daughter of an evacuee and British immigrant, this study is of particular personal significance because I grew up hearing my mother's stories of those experiences. Were there other women in the same 'boat' as Mum's, I wondered? Or did their stories differ, and if so, how?
Through an exploration of the literature surrounding both wartime evacuation and postwar immigration to Australia, it is apparent that in sociological terms there are gaps. Much of the literature concentrates on the events or the history of evacuation and migration, particularly in relation to ideologies and policy developments with a focus on motivations and outcomes. In addition, some useful personal accounts of the experiences of evacuation have been produced, but there appears to be much less in the way of empirical research and none which combines migration and evacuation. While there has been some recent scholarship on gender and migration issues, there is little which foregrounds gender and evacuation, and no academic analysis of the two topics together. The thesis addresses this gap by exploring the stories of 16 women living in the Gippsland, Australia region: women in their seventies, who have experienced British wartime child evacuation and postwar immigration to Australia.
Framed by a postrealist narrative approach, and informed by feminist sociological theory, I transform the women's stories into poetic representations to illustrate the ways in which particular cultural narratives construct the women's experiences. I argue that reconstructing the women's narratives contributes to our knowledge of evacuation and migration. Furthermore this process of knowing enables a sociological analysis of not only how that knowledge is produced, but also how it is opposed, disrupted, accommodated or embraced. Traditional cultural narratives of evacuees and migrants have portrayed them in stereotypical and one-dimensional ways, such as powerless evacuee victim or unwanted immigrant. From these particular conceptions have grown the ubiquitous 'dirty evacuee' or 'whingeing Porn' narratives, constructions with which the women struggle.
Portraying women subjects in this way is too reductive and unreflective of the more nuanced and empowering stories the women tell.
The women not only have individual stories to tell, they also share stories with other women; collective narratives of girlhood, marriage, motherhood and femininity and stories of leaving home which intersect with themes of self, class and gender. In the analysis of the women's stories, notions of 'becoming' both evacuees and migrants are signalled, as are the ways that memories are reconstructed and embodied. Importantly, while the study explores the contradictory narratives which often constrain women's lives, it also highlights the interesting and enabling ways in which women's stories can be read, and from which their multiple selves are constructed.