Christine Sykes – Gough and Me: My Journey from Cabramatta to China and Beyond

Ventura Press, Australia, 2021

Christine Sykes’ memoir will strike a chord with many baby boomers, not just because of the Whitlam connection but because of her experience growing up in an age of change and reform.

Barbie spoke with Christine Sykes about Gough and Me

She lived as a child with her family in Albert Road, Cabramatta – at the untarred end of the street. When she was eight, the Whitlam family moved in at the posh end of the street and Christine formed what was to become a lifelong relationship of sorts with them. She found in Margaret a role model, in young Stephen a playmate unlike any other she had known and in Gough a god-like figure whose reforms when in government would change her life – and that of many others.

Throughout this account, Christine returns in word and deed to the mantras of her parents. Her mother insisted that she had only ever regretted the things she hadn’t done. Her father encouraged her to always ‘make the most of what you’ve got’.

In her career, Christine Sykes certainly took every opportunity offered and this gave her some memorable and significant positions in the public service arena. She also, after initial hiccoughs, took advantage of the educational opportunities afforded in the sixties and seventies through scholarships and then later in workplace education programs, especially those for women in leadership.

The value of education is a major strand in the book, and it is an education not merely in the formal sense but through wide, varied and challenging experiences. The author certainly comes across as a woman who has continuously faced and overcome not just societal obstacles but her personal demons. The status of women generally is also explored but more by inference than as a polemic.

The memoir is candid and is conversational in tone. Reading it is an intimate experience. We do feel that Christine Sykes is content to tell it warts and all, if this is a help to others. The assurance that we are all flawed, all vulnerable, all sometimes in need of help is comforting, but it also allows us a closeness with the author not always evident in memoir writing.

Stylistically the book alternates between writing descriptively of the past and bringing us into the immediacy of experiences through present tense narratives. This works well both as a story telling device and for the revelation of character traits of the people in her tale. There is also a lot of direct speech in the work, allowing us to be present in her experiences.

Christine holds the line neatly between objective recounting and the somewhat phlegmatic depiction of emotionally taxing events. The no-fuss approach to everything shown by her father, the ‘get on with it’ approach to life and its vicissitudes, tells us more than any amount of emoting could do. Through this book we feel we know Christine, even if this is not really the case – and that is a deft skill for a writer.

Thank you to Ventura Press for the review copy, DMCPR for facilitating the interview and Christine for such a delightful conversation.