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The bulk of Connie Ellement's autobiography is about her experience of life in a Salvation Army orphanage in Broome Street Cottesloe in a house called Kia Ora which had been built for wealthy merchant Frank Connor.
She was in fact not an orphan: her mother did not want to look after her, partly because she had had poliomyelitis and had a deformed left foot as a result. However, when she reached adolescence, her mother took her out of the orphanage to the boarding-house she was running in Nairn Street. They later moved to Spearwood where Connie met her future husband.
'I had conflicting ideas about what was right and what was wrong and I had trouble discerning a worthwhile role to play after so many years of being put down. But, unlike the scriptural kingdom, divided unto itself, I did not crumble.'
On Armistice Day, 1918, six-year-old Connie Ellement was conscripted into the Salvation Army. After years of neglect and mistreatment she was removed from her mother and placed into institutional care, a Perth orphanage. So began an uneasy relationship between the Salvation Army officers, who ranged from saints to sadists, Connie and one hundred other unfortunate, but lively young girls.
Aided by Connie Ellement’s remarkable memory and vivid descriptive powers, The Divided Kingdom is a book rich in incident and humanity; love, humour and tragedy. The world of the orphanage was both an extremely isolated, strict and narrow regime, and also a place of security and compassion. It was an experience that had a lasting effect on the children - largely because life within the orphanage was so completely at odds with the life from which they had come, and to which they would eventually return.
When Connie was old enough for domestic work, her mother removed her from the orphanage and took her home. The Divided Kingdom concludes in Fremantle, in a house, full of lumper-boarders, which backed onto one of Fremantle’s celebrated brothels; with Connie house-keeping and her mother working for the local SP bookie. ‘It was as if I had landed on another planet. All the values there were the opposite of what I had been taught in the Army.
Connie Ellement overcame the trauma of those early years and her story is a fascinating and highly readable insight into life in orphanages and on the Fremantle waterfront in the early years of this century.
Geelong Library blurb:
Connie Ellement (1912–1992) was born near Boulder, Western Australia and spent most of her early childhood in orphanages. She became interested in writing while translating books into Braille and her first book, The Divided Kingdom (with Ron Davidson), was published thirty-five years after she began writing it.
Ellement, Connie & Ron Davidson 1987, The Divided Kingdom, FACP. The photograph is (cropped) from the book.
The title of the book refers to the division of Israel into two kingdoms, as told in Kings 1 and 2. Connie refers to the story on page 146 of the book: 'But, unike the scriptural kingdom, divided unto itself, I did not crumble'. She seems to be referring to the division between what she was taught in the Salvation Army, and what the world outside of it was like.
Garry Gillard | New: 9 October, 2020 | Now: 9 October, 2020