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Between Me and Myself : A Memoir of Murder, Desire and the Struggle to Be Free - Sandra Willson

Between Me and Myself

A Memoir of Murder, Desire and the Struggle to Be Free

By: Sandra Willson

Paperback | 15 June 2022

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A recently uncovered memoir, this extraordinary tale of murder, mental health institutions, love, desire and oppression in 1950s Sydney is an explosive and utterly unique work.

On 29 April 1959, Sandra Willson, a twenty-year-old trainee psychiatric nurse from Paddington, devastated by the break-up of her relationship with her female lover, left her home and hailed a taxi. Asking the driver to take her to a remote location on the coast near Cronulla, she waited until he had stopped to consult a map and then shot him in the back of the head.

Found not guilty of murder on the grounds of insanity and sentenced to detention at the 'Governor's Pleasure', Willson spent the next seventeen years in prison and psychiatric hospitals, becoming the longest-serving woman prisoner in NSW.

Her memoir, largely written in prison and now published for the first time, describes the events leading up to the shooting, the day itself and the years of incarceration that followed. Raw, compelling, Between Me and Myself is a fascinating insight into life on the social margins of post-war Sydney, an indictment of the justice system's treatment of gay women, and a tragic story of abuse, mental illness, desire and repression.

About the Authors

Sandra Willson was born in 1939 in Sydney to working-class parents. Her first attempt to express her feelings for a woman led her to the Children's Court and detention in the Girl's Training School at Parramatta. At eighteen, she was offered a place as a trainee psychiatric nurse but a failed affair with a fellow trainee led a despairing Sandra to plot a murder that saw her sentenced to detention at the 'Governor's Pleasure' on the grounds of insanity. She spent the next seventeen years in prison and psychiatric hospitals. After her release, she worked on prison reform, establishing and running the first half-way house for women prisoners in NSW, serving on a range of government committees and acting as a consultant for the hit television show Prisoner. In 1991, Sandra retired to Queensland, where she died, in 1999, leaving her papers and memoir to her local church.

Rebecca Jennings is a Lecturer in Modern Gender History in the Department of History at University College, London. She is the author of Tomboys and Bachelor Girls- A Lesbian History of Post-war Britain (Manchester University Press, 2007) and Unnamed Desires- A Sydney Lesbian History (Monash University Publishing, 2015).

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