Women in Black – addendum

Listening to the accolades received by the play “Ladies in Black” about women who worked at David Jones based on the book “Women in Black” by Madeleine St John, has brought me to a confession about a past sin. This has haunted me over many years.

In 1960, as a young law student, I shoplifted a writing pad from David Jones stationary department in their basement floor.

I have never, before or since, done anything like that.

I blame two women in black.

Many years later, I confessed this to my family and have a ten year old granddaughter who periodically says “Grandma, remember when you shoplifted?” Last night I confessed to a wider group. (Yes there were some therapists present!)

Now is the time to go public!

I was, at the time, a student. Every weekday morning I caught a bus from Sydney University to the Law School, then in Philip Street, for an early morning lecture. If we got out of the bus a section earlier, outside Market St David Jones, and walked the rest of the way, we saved a princely threepence, very important in those poverty stricken student days. But, serendipity, one day I needed a new writing pad too. If I really hurried I could get one from DJs, its doors just opened, and still make my lecture. I rushed through, picked up a pad, got out the right money, two shillings and six pence and held the money and pad out to a conveniently close woman in black standing behind a till.

Despite my standing there with both hands extended with the pad in one and the money in another she pointedly ignored me and continued talking to the similarly clad woman standing next to her. Their quite audible conversation was about their recent weekend. I tried to hand my goods to the other woman and was also suitably ignored as she fed her friend her very boring weekend titbits. Eventually I said, “excuse me” in the politest way I could muster. No reaction. Of course why would such superior women in such a superior shop pay any attention to a young obviously impecunious student?

After a wait, long enough to make me aware that unless I left the shop I would be late to my lecture, I knew I would have to act. This would not have mattered too much except that, as one of only a handful of women law students at the time, it was very obvious who we were and embarrassing if we entered a full lecture room running late. It sometimes drew a comment.

What could I do? I looked around fruitlessly for another woman in black but saw no one. At last I saw a Security Guard at the door. I approached him with my money in one hand and the writing pad in the other. He made no comment but stood there immobile, unblinking, when I offered him the two shillings and six pence. I thought at the time he was just not prepared to break rules to help me in this dilemma (but in retrospect he may have been somewhat sympathetic as I departed the shop with pad and money).

Since then I have purchased many an item from David Jones but was much happier to so once it could be done by phone with no contact with the aforesaid women in black. My sister in law is a great lover of the store and I have occasionally lunched there with her. My daughter worked there very happily as a student twenty seven years later.

Sometimes I think I could assuage my conscience by just giving two shillings and six pence to David Jones (if I could find such coins). But no, I say to myself, I am entitled to that as damages for pain and suffering directly attributable to those women in black and their highly evident attitudes of vast superiority and distain.

One of those to whom I made the disclosure last night said, “But Anne you wear a lot of black”. Another replied on my behalf “She’s still channelling those women in black.”

As I write that I am aware I am wearing black. Oh the damage that can be done by women in black!


About Anne Powles

I am retired from paid employment. During my working life I have been variously and sometimes contemporaneously, wife, mother of four, lawyer, teacher and psychologist. I have also been a serial education junkie. As are we all, I have been an observer of the world around me. Here I have recorded some of my memories, observations and theorisings.
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