The Tea Ladies by Amanda Hampson
It’s 1965 and the world of fashion is about to be turned on its head by a young English model appearing in a mini-dress at the Flemington Race Day. But before that happens, tea lady Hazel Bates sees a young women in the empty bond building across from her place of work, Empire Fashionwear, who appears to be in distress. When the police don’t seem to be interested, even after the bond building is set on fire, Hazel and her fellow tea ladies join forces to investigate. As they share tea and cake in the back lane adjoining their work places, Hazel, together with Betty (sweet but rather dotty), pipe-smoking Irene (with a shady past) and Merl (who’s son-in-law is a dodgy police officer) find themselves investigating not only arson, but murder.
Many readers won’t remember the invaluable tea lady of old. They were indispensable to the workplace, providing a much needed cuppa and a biscuit or two. They always remembered your name and how you liked your tea, and were a great source of gossip. However, Hazel believes that ‘discretion is the hallmark of a good tea lady’.
In the same vein as Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club, The Tea Ladies introduces us to characters of a certain age, who are full of life and intelligence. These women could easily be overlooked and underestimated, but Hampson shows them to be a force to be reckoned with.
Hampson brings the Sydney rag trade of the 1960s to life, recreating the bustling back lanes of Surry Hills with a deft hand. She explores the rapid changes to fashion that was brought on by the sixties and the effect this had on those who worked in the industry, from the sewers and machinists to those who worked ‘upstairs’. I found myself totally immersed in Hazel’s world and was sorry to leave it. I hope we see more of Hazel and her intrepid fellow tea ladies, dispensing hot beverages and wisdom in equal measure.