Joan Richmond - From Melbourne to Monte Carlo and Beyond


This is not the kind of book I would have necessarily picked up given the choice, however, it was on our book club list so, being an obedient reader, I have read it.  We only have one copy between us as it was deemed quite difficult to get hold of so there was pressure to read to pass on. That all being said, now having read it, I immensely enjoyed it.

It is a truly remarkable life story of a strong and determined woman (I could also call her a tom-boy, remarkable, goer and incredibly driven). The main thrust of the book focuses on her adventurous drive from Melbourne to Monte Carlo in 1933, staying in London and all of the races and rallies she participated in, to her eventual return to Melbourne in 1946.

Joan had come from a privileged family who put her in good stead for her life, opening doors for her, especially in a time where women did not have as many opportunities.  She was one who knew how to make the most of each situation, and it was this that enabled her to spend so much time, devote her time to racing cars in rallies throughout Europe, even when the Nazi's had begun their assault on Germany and surrounding countries.

"..Not being one for not taking advantage of a favourable situation..." pg 240 re: getting pistons made for her Fiat at Specialloid during the war when there were no pistons available when she was working for de Havillands.

This book is an incredible snapshot of a strong and feisty woman's view of life between 1933 and 1946 whilst she was living in London.  She tells the story to David Price of the races, rallies, co-drivers and cars, but reading between the lines, one is able to hear how times were for the people, how times changed so rapidly, how she was affected and how they were affected.

She shows an incredible insight to what was about to happen, and being a woman, not afraid to speak up and ask questions.  On meeting Herr Huhnlein at the Donington Grand Prix in 1938 and seeing their Mercedes on the stand at the The London Motor Show, she questioned him about the rear platform on the car.

"..he told me that it was to mount the machine gun or an anti-aircraft gun..." 

She questioned him further about this.

"...We are not fighting you..."

He laughed it off and she tried to persist, however Lord Howe hushed her, embarrassed at her persisting.  She wondered why England did not see and learn from what they had seen. pg 212

It is a story of the difference of the rights that women have from then to now in that she documents it by telling David what she was able to do and not able to do.  For a woman to compete in a man's sport was remarkable and to do well at it, even more so.  Joan was very proud of her driving abilities and I got the feeling that she thought she had been overlooked either due to being a woman, or due to the car that she had been given to drive (sponsored).

"..I think we were cheated out of the Ladies Cup, because they cut out some events on the flat, where our nimble little excelled..." pg 192.

Joan returned to Melbourne, unhappily with her mother, to live in her eyes an unremarkable life for the last half of her life.  In reality it was anything but unremarkable, it was just not racing cars.

I had thought this was going to be a dry, motoring autobiography (I have never in my life read one of these), but I was drawn into Joan's life.  A woman who would do anything to get what she wanted in a time when the world was in turmoil, when women did not have the same choices that we do now.  I found it a very interesting book, even the car bits, but probably most especially the social observations that she made.

x Meg

4 comments:

  1. Meg, you have just epitomised why I love bookclub so much. It stretches my boundaries and encourages me to read books I would never have looked at twice. I will have to keep an eye out for this one.

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    1. Hi Deb, It is hard to get, but worth it. Have just come home from a great night discussing The Sense of An Ending. I will pop the review up tomorrow. x Meg

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    2. What a treasure of a book. I found it in the withdrawn books collection as being an unacceptable donated item at the New Norfolk library and am so pleased I bought it and could read of her exploits presented in such a refreshingly informal way. I'm about to take it in to the State library HQ and lodge a protest at the manner in which it was discarded as it is thoroughly worth being available as an inspirational read for today's youth so immersed in their technological world they have forgotten the heroes who pioneered the mechanical world we enjoy today.
      Gordon Wadsworth Gretna

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    3. Hi Gordon, I am so glad that you loved it too and liberated it! I agree, a great book for younger people to read to understand how far we have come, how inspiration women can be, and the pioneering of the mechanical world. Good luck with taking it too the State Library!
      Meg

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