I was born in Hobart, Tasmania on 23 September 1949. My parents, David and Pam Pillinger, had married on New Year's Day 1949 in New South Wales, where they both came from, and moved to Tasmania when Dad got a job as a vet there, with the Department of Agriculture. We lived at Howrah until I was eighteen months old, then moved to Oatlands when Dad was posted there.
I can just remember Oatlands, which always seemed bathed in sunlight: taking the dog for a walk with Dad, the yellow broom in full flower; the arrival of my little sister Pippa; lying on the mat in pre-school for a rest, watching the dust motes dancing in the sun, dying for the rest to be over so I could be up and doing. When I was four Dad was posted to Hobart, to his regret – he and Mum loved Oatlands – and we moved to Rosetta, a suburb of Glenorchy. There my sister Jo was born. This was another great place to grow up in, with the bush across the road, lots of neighbouring children to play with, and a friendly community. Dad loved bushwalking, and we had many family excursions (see photo).
Later we moved to Fern Tree, in the bush. We lost our house in the 1967 bushfires, but we rebuilt on the site. It was a dreadful experience, but at least no one in the family was hurt, which made me realise at seventeen than nothing else (furniture, clothes, mementoes etc) really matters.
We girls went to St Michael's Collegiate School, from kingergarten onwards. I can't really say there was much inspiring teaching but it was thorough, and I made many good friends. A lot of them are still good friends, fifty years later, a wonderful legacy to have from school. Mum taught there – she was my favourite teacher, and other girls' too, because she was always so kind and sympathetic, and made the subject interesting. She was a wonderfully supportive mother, and ran the family well, kind but firm. Dad seemed rather like an older brother, doing what Mum said like we all did. He was a jovial, popular man whose favourite activity was listening to Australia beating England at cricket. It didn't always happen, and then the house would ring with cries of 'Get the bastards out!'
I did an Arts degree at the University of Tasmania in the heady years 1968–1970: marches against Vietnam, in favour of Aboriginal rights, stirrings of feminism and radicalism – pretty faint stirrings as far as most of us were concerned, but very enjoyable. Then came two years in England, being a nanny, governess, shop assistant, barmaid etc. Back at home, I did Honours and a Diploma of Education and spent 1976 teaching. Meanwhile, in 1975 I married James Alexander, who lectured in Psychology at the University for 38 years. Our children were Jude (born 1976 – I was taking the unfortunate students of Cosgrove High for sex education when I myself got pregnant accidentally), Cathy (1978) and Ted (1980).
My Honours thesis was on Australian children's author Mary Grant Bruce. Various people said, 'How interesting! That would make a good book!' With the confidence of youth I sent it to Angus & Robertson who, eventually and very surprisingly since I was entirely unknown, sent me a contract. Billabong's Author was published in 1979. This started my writing career.
Publication led to a photo which still makes me laugh. A Mercury photographer came home to take a shot, and took one of me holding the book, with a rather careful smile on my face. The whole photo shows the reason: I was very pregnant with Cathy, and had toddler Judy clutching my knees and howling.
When Ted was three, I started looking around for work. No teachers were needed at that stage, but the Glenorchy City Council was advertising for someone to write Glenorchy's history. I submitted the lowest tender and got the job. This started a very enjoyable career, writing commissioned histories. In 2015 I have written 21 and a half, as you can see from my list of books. They have covered a big range of subjects, and I met a huge number of interesting and mostly delightful and helpful people. I also did some work at the University, including editing The Companion to Tasmanian History.
In the Archives one day, I came across information about Caroline Denison, the governor's wife, starting a refuge for fallen women. I wondered what else governors' wives had done, and this led to me writing Governors' Ladies: the wives and mistresses of Van Diemen's Land governors. It has been my most popular book. This success encouraged me to write to another biography, of Marie Bjelke Petersen, lesbian author of intensely romantic (heterosexual) novels in the 1920s and 1930s.
Ever since we discovered our own convict ancestors, I had wondered about the effect of all these convicts on Tasmania. This led to writing Tasmania's Convicts, which was published by Allen & Unwin, my first national publisher. My second book with them was The Ambitions of Jane Franklin. However, they declined to publish Corruption & Skullduggery, saying it would not sell, so I decided to publish it myself. This was published in 2015. It's my 28th book.
My family have always been very helpful with my writing. I remember sitting on the floor with the children aged around ten, as they helped me check an index (all on paper and pencil). As they've grown up they've given good advice from their various fields of expertise, and are always supportive. My daughter-in-law Mira has also become a great supporter, as is my husband James, always willing to discuss questions research and writing throw up: What's another word for 'sinister'? Would people know Lima is in Peru? and so on. He's been marvellous taking photos for my most recent books.
I hope you're enjoying this website, which was designed by Mark Howell of Enrega. I think he's done a great job. It looks marvellous. Whoever would have dreamt of such a thing in 1979, when historical research meant pencil and paper, photocopies if you were lucky, and a typewriter as your most exotic bit of equipment.