Thus begins, on Wednesday 27th April 1910, this 74-page account of the life of Henrietta Petrea McManamey, at her home in Woodford, NSW. Ettie, the 42-year-old wife of Woodford Academy headmaster John McManamey, was inspired to begin her journal not through a creative urge to have her words recorded for posterity but ‘As an aid to memory …,’ because she had mislaid an undershirt. This small diary contains an all-too-brief glimpse of Ettie that reveals an intelligent, acutely observant and engaging personality, freely expressing her most personal feelings and opinions in the privacy of its pages, before her death in 1913.
The few years covered (1910 to 1912) were eventful, both locally and nationally. The Edwardian era was brief and King Edward VII’s death in 1910 marked the end of a decade of national prosperity and peace, that included development of a Federated nation, the granting of suffrage to white Australian women, increasing political awareness and the creation of a worker’s party, all in the calm before the storm of world war. Ettie’s writing discloses a detailed and personal account of pre-war Australian society: the death and mourning of the King; the fascination with Halley’s Comet; the rise of the Labor Party as a viable political force; the domestic needs of Academy life and the everyday observations of life, politics and people in New South Wales and the small Blue Mountains town of Woodford.
Henrietta Petrea Holm McManamey was born in Bathurst in 1871 to Danish seaman Frederic Wilhelm Nielsen and Elizabeth Rae, daughter of A. B. Rae, photographer, bookseller and founder of the Western Independent newspaper. Frederick Nielsen anglicised his surname to Nelson and changed his occupation to ‘Photographic Artist’, working from 1868 to 1871 in a small studio in William Street, Bathurst. Although her father died when she was only four, Ettie writes fondly of the few memories she has of him and the stories she had been told of his courage in the 1870s when he braved the flooded Macquarie River to bring across the mail with Cobb and Co. pioneer, Jim Rutherford. She muses over the common heritage she shared with Queen Alexander, the Danish widow of King Edward VII, and expresses her pride at the one thousand Danish men sent to the funeral of the King, wondering if any of them could be related to her.