Hello, Goodbye is set in 1968 in Victoria. Seventeen-year-old May is finishing school and meets Sam who is dying to get out of Nurrigul. He sweeps her off her feet and made her feel ‘ripe for rebellion’. They talked about their lives beyond the small town once May had finished high school.
I laughed as May described her Ma as a woman who ‘believes that male and female underwear should be hung on opposite sides of the line’, but can surprise her with a selection of shoes she used to wear when she and her husband went ballroom dancing. Sad though was Ma finding God after her third child died at birth, when May was eight-years-old. The church became her obsession leaving May wondering ‘what I’d need to do to make Ma see me too’.
Her uncles, her ma’s brothers, had both been killed in World War 2 and her father returned in body but escapes with his demons and drinks, and can’t or won’t share his experiences with anyone, bottling it up as was the expectation for men in the 60s. The war ‘made promises too good to refuse, then gave him nightmares and a sickness none of us could put a finger on. … It stops Dad from loving us properly’.
May’s eyes are opened by her teacher, Miss Berry, who told the class ‘allowing women into the public bar of a pub is a matter of equality’, and didn’t join in when they sang “God Save the Queen”. She gave May anti-war fliers to distribute making her feel she ‘might be part of something bigger than this town’, and that she was ‘destined for great things’.
Cousin Lucy, was seen as the ‘bad girl’ versus May who was ‘supposed to be the serious one. The one who toes the line and never takes risks – Ma raised me that way’. Likewise with the sisters – ‘If food equalled personalities, Aunty Marj would be a prawn cocktail and Ma would be a boiled sprout’.
May falls pregnant and the limited choices available to girls and women back then are portrayed with heartbreaking authenticity. Making the decision to keep the baby sees her treated appallingly as a young unmarried mother.
The range of people protesting against the war in Vietnam are depicted, as is the waste, ‘the price we pay for war and the scars it leaves behind’, where ‘there are victims and perpetrators, but sometimes the perpetrators are victims too’. Young men are ‘signing up in search of adventure’ and not learning from the mistakes of those who have been there. ‘No one’s a hero in war’ is the strong message in the book.
May does have conflicted feelings when she thinks Sam is dodging the war, and may get caught, against her knowledge of what it has done to her father and to her new friend James. Sam himself is torn, as many young men would have been at the time. May does find an outlet for this helping to publish a newsletter, in one way of telling her dad’s story.
The way Clancy, who lives in the share house with May, is treated by some reflects the mindsets of many towards Aboriginal people back then.
This novel deals with the secrets a family hide from one another, and the repercussions of doing this. I was disappointed for May at the end, wanting more for her, but realistically this would have been a good outcome at the time.