There was a spell of a few months, my Gran recalls, once the children were grown up and Norman was away at barracks, when Ming took up the habit of an after-dinner cigarette. She would sit back in a comfortable chair and take it out, holding the cigarette carefully between her thumb and forefinger. Gran, who had started smoking secretly at the age of 15 and continued to be a heavy smoker until well into her sixties, was amused by Ming’s carefully cultivated vice — Ming thought she was being ‘very feminist’ and ‘modern’, Gran told me with a mischievous smile. She gave me Ming’s old ashtray when I first came up to the North Coast, an elegant brass bowl with engraved oriental peacocks decorating the rim. It pleases me to imagine Ming in her prime, sitting back and puffing on her solitary feminist cigarette, elegantly flicking the ash into her brass bowl, watching the blue curl and waft of the smoke. I imagine it was on one such leisurely evening in January 1940 when she opened up the new women’s magazine of the day, a newspaper supplement, The Australian Women’s Mirror, to see a bold and heartless headline. ‘Try an Abo Apprentice!’ Quoting a happy employer — ‘X has become one of the family and we have become very fond of her’ — the article went to exhort white housewives to avail themselves of Aboriginal servants supplied by the state.
KeywordsSmoke Defend Plague Amaze
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