Image: Passport photograph of Ettie Rout, 1918. Photographer unidentified. Collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library, New Zealand. Ref: PAColl-4832.
I’ve been looking at this face for months. It belongs to Ettie Rout. She was born in Tasmania in 1877 but raised in New Zealand from the age of eight. I’ve examined her hair and her eyes. I’ve pondered her broach, the weird wrinkle of her collar, the shape of her mouth.
I’ve read Jane Tolerton’s excellent biography. I’ve read scholarly essays. I’ve read feature stories. I’ve read the pithy biography on Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. I’ve searched her up on Trove, Papers Past, the Cenotaph database and the Australian National War Memorial. I’ve downloaded the war photos, the journalism photos and the body beautiful ones. I’ve watched the episode from the TV series.
I’ve been to the State Library and ordered some of her books from the stacks. They’re odd but also awesome.
Take Whole-Meal With Practical Recipes. The book came out in 1927. Sir William Arbuthnot Lane wrote the foreword. I did not make that name up.
‘Mrs Ettie A Hornibrook has, at my urgent request, written a pamphlet on the subject on Whole-meal and Whole-meal Products, which will supply to the Public just such information as will afford them a basis upon which to form their own conclusions as to the benefits of Whole-meal and the terrible damage to health that is being inflicted on the community by White Flour products,’ Sir W begins.
The capital letters are in the original. White Flour, Sir W says, is ‘the chief factor in the production of disease and particularly of cancer, and in the deterioration of the physique and health of our nation’.
Rout summed the menace up thus:
The Whiter the Bread,
The sooner you’re Dead.
Sir W suggested her ditty should be hung ‘in a conspicuous position in every home and in every baker’s shop’. My mum would have bought one! White flour did not enter our kitchen in the 1970s or even the 1980s. The new millennium has bought no softening on the ban either.
Another of Rout’s books was Safe Marriage: A Return to Sanity. It was published in 1922 and banned, immediately, in New Zealand (where marriage had to be unsafe and insane, presumably?)
Sir W wrote the preface for this one too. ‘To no woman has it been permitted to do the same amount of good, and to save more misery and suffering, both during and after the war, than to Miss Ettie Rout. Her superhuman energy and indomitable perseverance enabled her to perform, in the most efficient manner possible, a work which few woman would care to handle and to which but an infinitesimally small number are capable.’
Rout then kicked off the text proper with her trademark subtlety.
‘At present marriage is easily the most dangerous of all our social institutions. This is partly due to the colossal ignorance of the public in regard to sex, and partly due to the fact that marriage is mainly controlled by lawyers and priests instead of women and doctors,’ she wrote.
I could go on with many more fabulous quotes from the land of Rout but I’ll save the juicy stuff for the talk I’m giving (along with three other historians) at Melbourne Museum on Sunday 26 October. The event is called No Place for a Woman. It’s been organised by the Professional Historians Association and all the speakers are proud members.
I had to blurt out a few long quotes here because our talks are so short. No more than ten minutes. I’ve had to condense all my research into about 1300 words. It’s been a hell of a process: submit a 100-word pitch; audition with a three-minute script and pictures; submit draft script of no more than 800 words; get paired with coach; revise script; perform script for coach; revise again; and perform again with images and archival film. On Monday, there’s a run through ‘a voice artist’. I know, I want that job title too.
I reckon my script is coming along. I can look Ettie in the eyes but I’ve got to do some more work on tone, pace, volume, riffs and preemptive chuckles before I get the final nod from my amazing, demanding coach, Museum Victoria curator Bec Carland! Thanks Bec. You’ve forced me to really see Ettie for who she was and I’m looking forward to sharing these insights next weekend.