The Woman of the ‘Women of Paris’

Lucinda Holdforth: Waiting for destiny

by Noni Edwards

As a child, Lucinda Holdforth imagined big things for herself.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but I always wanted to have a big life of some kind,” she says. “There was always that sense of wanting to create something that was a bit special, but I just didn’t know what that was.” Whilst waiting for destiny to come knocking, Lucinda perfected the art of getting fired.

“I got sacked from about five waitressing jobs,” she says. “In those days, those were the only jobs you could get and I got sacked all the time. I was incredibly clumsy.”

“They put me on the register and I dialled up ten thousand dollars instead of ten dollars. For some reason the machine freaked out and they said that I wasn’t required anymore.”
Eventually she gave up on hospitality and returned to the pursuit of adventure. Like many Australians, travelling overseas was the next step in her ‘larger-than life’ life.

Lucinda’s brand of wanderlust didn’t involve backpacking or package tours though. She signed up to be a diplomat with the Department of Foreign Affairs.

“When you’re in Foreign Affairs you do all kinds of weird, bizarre jobs,” she explains.
Like the time she accompanied the then Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, to the Non-Aligned conference in Belgrade.

This influx of high-powered diplomats meant high security. As the Australians entered the conference, Gareth Evans took the lead, his entourage following closely behind.
“For some reason the people in Canberra had decided that the gift the Foreign Minister would be giving would be a letter opener.”

“The ambassador was carrying the letter opener through the security system,” says Lucinda, “the X-ray goes onto the letter opener and of course what they see is a dagger. Forty security men jumped on him and Gareth is still powering ahead.”

When he finally realised the ambassador had been delayed, he started yelling for him across the room, at the top of his voice. Lucinda’s reaction to him was: “I think he’s being arrested, Minister”.

But being a diplomat was ultimately not the “big thing” she had been looking for.
“I didn’t want to have a life where I had to balance work as the extra bit on the see-saw. I spent years doing that.”

Having completed her book, Women of Paris: A Memoir, she now works as a speechwriter.

Lucinda describes the rewards of a creating a less regimented working life for herself.

“I don’t feel my day is ‘a bit of work’ and ‘a bit of life’. I work from home, I do my own writing, I manage my own time. It’s much more integrated so I’m much happier now.”

Integration is also key to her understanding how the French also balance their lives.

“I love the French because they have an idea of an integrated society. It’s not about you, as an individual, on your own. People have a role to play and a responsibility to fulfil and you
bring all your gifts and your talents to that.”

The time spent in Paris, conducting research for her book, left her with some unique impressions of the Gallic way-of-life.

“I think the French are really efficient in a whole lot of ways. You get on the Metro and it’s absolutely brilliant but you go home and it’s this weird noisy plumbing.”

“It’s obviously what different cultures think is important. We have a bad public transport system here.” With no firm ideas for who would be profiled in her book, Lucinda says, “I tried to select them, but in the end they did select themselves.” And while she celebrates their diversity, Lucinda says they do share a common trait: wilfulness, or “a certain esprit, as the French would say.” Her favourite woman of Paris was Germaine de Stael.

“She was extraordinary, brave and wild. She was also clumsy which I like very much,” Lucinda says.

Freely admitting that clumsiness influenced her early career, Lucinda is also honest about her lack of numeracy influencing her recent choices.

After Foreign Affairs, she rode the crest of a wave working for a high-rolling international firm. When the market shifted though, they suggested she move into management consulting.

“I couldn’t have done it. I couldn’t count. I knew I would end up getting sacked one way or another,” she said.

So Lucinda knew it was time to look for the next big thing.

“I am prepared to make a change if I need to, and that I think does go back to being a kid and always wanting something good and not wanting to settle.”

(originally published in Sydney Writers Festival publication Festival News)

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