Woman Oldfield, Audrey (1925 - 2010)

25 October 1925
Mullumbimby, New South Wales, Australia
27 October 2010
Miranda, New South Wales, Australia
Children's Writer and Historian
Alternative Names
  • Parkes, Audrey (Maiden)

Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne

Audrey Phyllis Oldfield, née Parkes, was born on 25 October 1925 in Mullumbimby, New South Wales. Oldfield was the elder of two daughters born to sixth-generation Australians Joseph Parkes and his wife Eileen, née Browne. During the Depression, Oldfield's family often moved as her butcher father searched for work. The family moved to Wallangarra on the border between Queensland and New South Wales, and later to Byron Bay where the family lived in a tent behind the sand hills, as there was no rental accommodation available. They eventually settled in Grafton, NSW. Oldfield commenced her primary education at The Channon near Lismore-a one-teacher school under the guidance of inspirational teacher Tom Smith. She later completed her secondary schooling at Grafton High School where she was encouraged in her writing by her English master, John Tierney, himself the author of First Furrow, The Advancement of Spencer Button under the pen name Brian James.

For women of her generation of limited means, the educational opportunities available were limited in the early 1940s. Oldfield secured a teaching scholarship and attended the Sydney Teachers College for two years from mid-1943. Frances Willard House at Macdonaldtown-named for the prominent American suffragist and long-time president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union-provided a refuge to the young women in a wartime Sydney. After completing teacher training Oldfield secured a teaching position at Southgate on the Clarence River, and then at Green Valley in Sydney's west. She met her future husband, Alan Oldfield, at a church youth camp and the couple married in 1949. Oldfield continued to teach at various schools in Sutherland Shire until the birth of her two children, Ken and Lynne. She then resumed teaching as a teacher/librarian at Woolooware and then Burraneer Bay schools. Writing remained an enduring passion for Oldfield and she would combine this with her interest in children's reading to produce children's books. Daughter of Two Worlds was published in 1970. The fictional story about the difficulties and triumphs of a Indigenous girl of mixed descent at a school in Perth tackled issues of social justice, while her second children's book, Baroola and Us, charted the adventures of a family who move from the city to the country.

Returning to study in later life, Oldfield completed a Bachelor of Arts at the University of New England and a Master of Arts in Australian Studies under the tutelage of Donald Horne at the University of New South Wales. A committed feminist, she began work on what remains the definitive work on the history of Australian women's fight for the vote, Women Suffrage in Australia: a Gift or Struggle (1992) and was often to be seen researching at the Mitchell Library. Uncovering a wealth of correspondence between women in the different colonies as they 'battled political expediency, ingrained prejudices and unabashed ridicule-while coping with differing party, class and temperance allegiances within their ranks', Oldfield emphasized that women's suffrage came not as a gift but through campaigning for women's equality. Dedicating the seminal work to her grandchildren, Oldfield wrote, 'A generation which will learn that their mothers, as well as their fathers, made Australian history'. Oldfield also researched the republican movement in early Australia, publishing The Great Republic of the Southern Seas: Republicans in Nineteenth-Century Australia, which won the Australian Society of Women Writers' prize for non-fiction in 1999.

Oldfield died aged eighty-five on 27 October 2010 in Miranda.

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