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Australian Singledom vs. U.S. Singledom (Donna Ward Interview, Part 1) May 24, 2021

Posted by Onely in book review, Guest Posts, Reviews.
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Welcome to the latest installment in our series, Onelers Of The World. Today I’m talking to Australian author Donna Ward, who wrote the lyrical and incisive memoir She I Dare Not Name: A spinster’s meditations on life. It’s available on Kindle and in Australia now, and it’s releasing in the U.S. on 01 June 2021!  As I was reading it, I highlighted the bejeezus out of every page. After much difficulty, I narrowed my myriad highlights into a few key bullets that I wanted to ask Donna to talk to you about directly, in what ended up being a three-part interview. This first part concerns the differences between U.S. American and Australian views of singledom.



This woman is not a ghost come to claim you. You are not free to flirt with her. She won’t want to go home with you unless you enjoy her company, and she yours. She is not in search of a mercy fuck. She is not a threat to your marriage. The silence in her soul is not a harbinger of death, it simply comes of keeping company with solitude. This woman is not a bunny-boiler. All the bunny-boilers she knows are ex-wives.

 —Donna Ward, She I Dare Not Name. Allen & Unwin 2021

Christina to Donna:  You had a fascinating insight when an American acquaintance asked you if you’re “happy being a singleton.” You realized that only an American would ask this. When I read your rationales, my mind went BOOM. (A good boom.) Could you explain for my readers why your acquaintance’s question was arguably uniquely American?

Donna:  It was the word, singleton, that got me thinking. Singleton, is a word used when one baby is born instead of two or three. Since singletons are remarkably common, I understood my companion’s question to mean, Are you happy being alive? But my acquaintance was using the word in the American sense. That is, being without a life partner. Not married. Dare I say it, a spinster. There, I said it.

And in that moment she reminded me of the difference between being single in Australia, and single in America, and that difference circles around the other word in my acquaintance’s sentence, the word, happiness. In Australia, a person’s marital status does not attract the assumption that you’re unhappy. In fact, it’s more likely that people assume a spinster, or bachelor is happy because they are not burdened by family responsibilities and obligations. The iconic Australian identity is that of the freewheeling, obligation free, rebellious larrikin, even though our economic and social policies are framed around the basic unit of the two-income family. It’s a conundrum, but at the core of every ‘familied’ Australian is the desire to be free of the obligations and burdens of family life. This freedom is where happiness lies.

I think the difference between American and Australian attitudes to marriage, in particular, and coupling in general stem from our colonization. Unlike Australia, the link between happiness and marital status in America is as loaded as a nuclear warhead. And this nuclear warhead is embedded in the opening lines of the United States Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (sic) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

America’s founding fathers, who wrote this declaration, were steeped in the principles of the Pilgrim Fathers—conservative protestants who left England to found the New Jerusalem. At the core of their values was the sacred principle of marriage.

As for Australia, we were founded by fierce, white, privileged aristocrats engaged in the project of imprisoning and, eventually, releasing convicts into a wild and difficult land to make a life. From our earliest days there was a healthy disrespect for authority, and especially, the formalities of marriage. There was also a deep and abiding contempt for women and Indigenous Australians, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

So, getting back to America. When I thought about my acquaintance’s question, I was reminded of the American belief that happiness is pursued through the sacred principle of marriage and family, without which a singleton will not automatically find happiness.

Christina:  I was surprised to read, “Australians could not be more different from Americans when it comes to marriage. And it is serious trickery to assume our cultures are the same when it comes to being married or not. . . being married in settler Australia is treated, in the main, with benign indifference.” Could you describe why Australia “is not the marrying kind” as you put it?

DonnaThe foundations of a society have a potent and lasting influence on how its members view coupling and family making, and family making is structured according to a society’s assumptions and beliefs. In Australia, if jail time isn’t connected to your action—say, shaking up with someone you love and having a few children out of wedlock, for example—we’ll do it. And that’s how things went in the colonies, unless you were part of the elite class. They were ones for formal marriage, and were rather angry that freed convicts wouldn’t marry their women. Freed convicts were mainly Scottish and Irish blokes who didn’t much like the English, and therefore were not subject to English marriage laws. And there you have it, the roots of our larrikinism.

Christina: Full disclosure, I had to look this up. Larrikinism: the state of being noisy, rowdy, or disorderly. larrikin, adj.,n. (Freedictionary.com)

Donna: Also, to be fair, in the colonies there were six men for every woman. While there was a lot of coupling going on, and a lot of children being born, there were also a lot of men who didn’t marry at all. This ratio between men and women in Australia didn’t reach parity until the 1950s, and it was not until the 1980s when there were more women than men in Australia. Apart from a brief period after World War II, when we adopted traditional marriage, as soon as the Sexual and Second Wave Feminist Revolutions came along, we resumed business as usual, and business as usual was not so much about marrying, but coupling and having children, then divorcing, and maybe re-coupling. It was, in effect, always about family making.

Since writing the book I’ve observed that the same-sex marriage debate and legislation are changing attitudes to marriage. Marriage is now being seen as the moment a couple confirms their enduring love for each other. It’s not so driven by religion and social mores, but a desire to publicly claim one’s love for another person. It’s bringing us full circle, in a way, back to how marriage should be implemented. So it seems we Australians may be heading toward a culture that is the marrying kind.

Photo credit: Manda Ford






1. Book Review: She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster’s Meditations | Onely.Org - June 1, 2021

[…] I interviewed Donna for our series Onelers of the World. Part one of the interview is here. Now we have a treat for our U.S. American readers: She I Dare Not Name is being released in the […]

2. Rosemary Nissen-Wade - June 8, 2021

Australianism lost in transcribing – it’s actually ‘shacking up’, not ‘shaking up’. 🙂

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