Ladies, time to put your seat-belts on
Seventy years ago it was not considered socially acceptable for a woman to drive however this did not stop all women from getting behind the wheel. As an Older Driver Assessor, Mark Dalton, principal of Dalton Driving School, has the wonderful opportunity to meet some of these pioneering women as they continue to drive in their eighties.
One of these women, Joy, continues to drive successfully, completing her Older Driver Assessment for a second time as a testament to her natural ability and passion for driving - both of which she inherited from her mother. I am honoured to be able to share her story on International Women's Day.
Today we take it for granted that a woman can hold a drivers licence, but things were very different when Joy went for her driving test in 1951. Society dictated that women were unable to properly handle anything as mechanical as a motor vehicle and the driving was left to their husbands or other trusted male relatives or friends. It was not illegal for a woman to hold a drivers licence, however it was not socially acceptable in the same way it was considered inappropriate for a woman to work once she was married.
Joy, however, loved to drive. When she turned seventeen she was taught to drive around South Hurstville and Dolls Point by her mother. According to Joy, her mother was the superior driver, her father more used to going by horse and buggy, so it made sense for her to be the instructor. Her mother learnt to drive at the age of nineteen in the 1920’s, which surprisingly
was quite acceptable at that time if you had the financial means and opportunity which Joy’s mother did.
During the post WW1 years, women were encouraged to be adventurous, throwing away their corsets, driving cars and flying planes (when they weren’t dancing on the wings). Sadly by the 1930’s women were once again relegated to the confines of their homes amidst a strong anti-feminist culture around cars and driving. When Joy went to Kogarah police station to sit her driving test this was still very much the general opinion. Joy did very well, driving herself and the local constable down the main road and past the post office, finishing with a flourish by reversing confidently down a side lane between the church and the police station.
Her most distinct memory of that day was of the ‘big policeman behind the counter’ who quickly questioned how a woman, especially one that looked so young, could possibly be able to drive. Well she could, and she got her licence on her first attempt (unlike one of her male friends, she is quick to add). Even after Joy married, she continued to work as a teacher and drive herself to work every day.
Joy proudly admits to only having one accident in her driving career, back in 1958 when she was pregnant with her first child and off to a game of tennis. Driving along Captain Cook Drive, near current day Shark's Park, Joy swerved to miss a pothole and ended up travelling diagonally towards the side of the road. As her car came to a sudden stop, the front passenger door flew open and Joy proceeded to slide along the bench seat and out the door, (seat belts were not a standard fixture in cars at that time). A passerby came to her aid and got her going again. Her only injury was a sore finger, and though missing her tennis game, she made it to lunch. This incident definitely did not stop Joy driving, and as her assessment proves, she is still more than capable of continuing her driving career.
International Women's Day is a day to remember and appreciate the freedom of choices women enjoy in Australia today - to drive, to work and to vote. These choices have been made possible by the pioneering women who had the courage to step out of their traditional roles and stand up against gender discrimination.
Many thanks to Joy for allowing me to share her story.