The Laundry Girl: A Memoir of a Western Australian Girl by Faye Bohling
This book interested me because it is set in Western Australia, and because it deals with a part of Perth history to do with the Home of the Good Shepherd, a convent institution for destitute, poor, or ‘wayward’ girls., which I didn’t know much about.
This is the often heartbreaking story of Faye Bohling, born to a single mother in 1938 in Perth, Western Australia. Faye’s mother, Amy, was a beautiful but troubled woman, given to offloading the young Faye to an assortment of informal foster carers, remote family members, and to the most isolating and cruel place of all, the Home of the Good Shepherd. Like all children, Faye loves her mother unconditionally, and just cannot understand why she is abruptly and unceremoniously left at these various places. At some homes, Faye receives compassion and care, but at others she meets with cruelty, neglect, and indifference. Unfortunately, the Home of the Good Shepherd was a cruel and forbidding place, where Faye was left at the age of ten. Rather than being schooled by the nuns, she ends up working in the laundry, hence the book title. Faye is there for two long and lonely years. It left an indelible scar, but the greatest injustice to the young Faye was that meted by her troubled mother. There is obviously a story behind Amy’s dysfunction, but it is, sadly, one that remains a mystery because her upbringing and parentage are unknown for certain.
The story is told against a poignantly described backdrop of what is a “Lost Perth” – Perth of the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Streets such as Newcastle, Aberdeen, and stores like Re Store, Eziwalkin Shoes, Boans, Bairds, and other Perth icons such as trolley buses bring a familiar and touching brush to this story.
Faye ultimately survives her troubled childhood. In this book, she speaks publicly for the first time about her stay in the Home. She had been cautioned never to speak about it by her mother who arrived suddenly one day to collect her. In his preface to the book, Dr John Welland, likens this story to Albert Facey’s “A Fortunate Life” for the resilience and positivity that Faye Bohling retains despite the vicissitudes and heartaches she has faced even into her adult life.