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Emily Ker Clifton Diaries
Dr Kate is back on the airwaves in 2021 at a brand new time slot, delving into WA’s past, extracting hidden treasures and the fascinating stories behind them.
This week Dr Kate discusses the Emily Clifton diaries, a collection of 48 personal diaries covering the period 1906 – 1979. The diaries offer insight into domestic life in the South West over a significant period of time, from a woman’s perspective. The earliest diaries were written by Emily as a teenager and go on to cover a large period of her life.
Emily Clifton diaries. Extract from Diary 1 February 1908 - 9 July 1908. (ACC 10079AD/6)
Who was Emily Clifton?
Emily Ker Clifton (1891-1990) was the daughter of Algernon Francis Clifton & Augusta Dorinda.
The Clifton family were significant in the colonization of the South West. Emily’s great-grandparents Marshall Waller Clifton and Elinor Katherine Bell arrived at Port Leschenault in 1841. Marshall had been chief commissioner of a proposed settlement at Australind and over the years, he came to be regarded as the spokesman for settlers in the southern districts.
Emily worked as a teacher, starting at Clifton school in 1910 and remaining there for 37 years.
Emily Clifton diaries. Extract from 1958 Collins' Australian Diary. (ACC 10079AD/37)
What do the diaries tell us?
Emily’s diaries reflect trends in women’s diary writing – with the focus on local and social events, and the privileging of information that the authors considered important to them.
In Emily’s teenage diaries, greater length is devoted to social interactions and activities with her siblings, ‘unimportant’ aspects such as school are summed up in few words – e.g. ‘I went to school as usual’. (8 Feb 1906)
Later diary entries detail women’s roles, weather, work life and even global events such as the Great War – e.g. ‘Up 7:15 – school all day. Very hot, sea breeze in afternoon for short time. School work after I got home. America has sent ultimatum to Germany. Father when to Factory meeting & Kathleen to singing in Bunbury. Bob (Sniffly) went by midday train.’ (5 Feb 1917)
Of particular interest is Emily’s mention of quarantining when the Spanish influenza pandemic crops up in her diary in 1919.
Digitised copies of all of the diaries are accessible via the State Library catalogue.