I've been busy writing other people's stories and fitting the beginnings of my own memoir in between. I intend to include the stories of some of my female ancestors who I realise now have passed down their qualities of strength and resilience to me. As hard and traumatic as my life journey has been in many ways and even when I've been in the depths of despair, I have always been able to bounce back. Although long dead now, I really feel these women are still walking with me.
We piled into the carriage at Central Station; three 16 year old girls heading North, our luggage bulging with frivolity. There was me the little hippy girl from Darwin, they called ‘Herbal’ and two Ms, Maggie of the long limbs and lily white skin who would be constantly in fear of the sun on our sunny holiday and Melanie, a Slavic beauty with long blond curls and an aloof demeanour. I had just broken up with my surfer boyfriend grown bored with the endless hours, sunbaking on the beach, watching him have fun riding the waves. It hadn’t occurred to me that I too could be out there surfing too. I was keen to get away and, while surfing was not on my radar, I anticipated lots of adventure in Byron Bay. I had no inkling then just how much adventure would arise from this short trip.
At the last minute another two more Ms crashed through the doors of the train, a tower of luggage tottering behind them. Mirren and Margo had been grounded and only released at the last minute. They had known each other since Kindergarten and were inseparable. A favourite game of theirs was pretending to be exotic royalty, high class call girls or celebrities, speaking in French, Italian or posh English accents. They were fun to be around as there were often comedic situations at some poor boy’s expense.
As the red rattler chugged out of the station, we settled into our seats. The vinyl seats were scrawled with black texta and covered with slashes, leaking stuffing. We didn’t care. We were free. So thrilled to be away from the confines of our home lives and parental interference, the 4 Ms and I. We pulsed with excitement.
We staggered back and forth through the carriages in a conga line scanning for potential entertainment. It was a motley assortment of mums and kids, oldies and a few middle aged singles. Two pimply boys with a guitar were the only passengers of interest. Resignedly, we nestled into our seats to go over our plans for the week. That fizzled out pretty quickly as we didn’t really have any plans or ideas. We did have great expectations though but were entirely unclear what these were.
As darkness fell, there was the drift of guitar chords from a few seats down and murmurings of ‘Bobby McGee.’ We sang loudly in fake Texan drawls, falling over each other laughing hysterically, amused by our hilarity. Eventually we took notice of the dark looks from the other passengers and began to quieten down and fell asleep. I woke at dawn and watched the sunrise through the dirty windows.
The train rattled to a stop and we bumbled sleepily into the sultry morning air. I took a deep inhalation, feeling the slick of humidity and hot sun on my skin. ‘Yes!’ I thought. Here we are.’ We looked at each other and laughed. ‘Risk and adventure here we come.’ The unknown is a fine thing when it is unknown and in that innocent moment I could not know what the years ahead would be.
The days rushed by in a haze. Hitching in and out of town, hours baking in the sun, trips in panel vans with local boys to hidden beaches. On the third day I was sitting at the table in the hostel when he walked in. I can still see myself. Skin brown and dry with salt, my hair a matted mess. I was wearing a little embroidered white camisole and purple shorts with red roses. I loved those shorts and had cut them down from a long pair of pants I’d bought at the hippy shop in Darwin. I can still see him. Light skinned with a sprinkling of freckles, a strong face framed by a halo of ginger hair. He wore a cheesecloth striped shirt and an orange sarong wrapped around his hips. He had a bright cotton bag slung over his shoulder He scanned the room briefly, our eyes met and there was an immediate connection. I thought his NZ accent was endearing and his free, hippy image was seductive.
I was only 16 years old and could not have imagined what lay ahead and the chain of turning points that this chance meeting would bring in only a few short years; a baby, an accident and permanent injury resulting in blindness, many moves across two states, misplaced loyalty, betrayal, marriage and divorce.
In Adelaide for a time I found myself and my small child living unwittingly in a brothel with two heroin addicts and their illegal Armenian boyfriends. Back in Sydney there were dark months and years that followed where I struggled to make sense of everything and I sought escape in drugs and alcohol and unhealthy sexual encounters. Fortuitously I also found yoga which became a lifelong support and friend.
Still only a child at twenty two years old I had already been through so much. My family too dysfunctional to offer nurturing support or kindness. No wonder I was unravelling. Even now Bobby McGee still pops into my head always with the Texan drawl and echoes of laughter.
These are the turning points in your life - the events, experiences, or insights that shaped your life and its directions. They may have been big events such as marriage or divorce, war, moving to a new country, the death of a loved one, retirement etc. Or they may have been small events that had big outcomes; like simply reading a book or going for a walk.
Think of your life as a branching tree. New branches form, others may drop off for lack of sun or nourishment. Some flourish and bear fruit and others don't.
Or think of your life as a river winding its way to the sea. Where did it begin, widen and narrow, twist and turn, and add branches as it flowed? Did storms, floods or droughts affect the course of the river? Were there wild torrents and quiet pools?
MY FRIEND RUTH PEARCE WROTE THIS PIECE ABOUT A BRANCHING POINT IN HER LIFE
(real names have been changed to respect privacy)
It wasn’t something I told everyone – just a few trusted friends. There was some embarrassment, shame even, about this secret habit of mine, possibly addiction.
I had an excuse of course – Louella, who lived in my house, was involved in it, and it seemed only polite for me to participate. Every evening we would turn on the TV, eager for the start of our favourite show, a hospital soapie. Laughing at the improbably storyline, shrieking with excitement every time Louella made an appearance, bewitched by the handsome doctors, especially our favourite, Dr Mason! With his perfect plum accent and his unflappable demeanour.
Fast forward 3-4 years. I am about to embark on a change of life direction with my decision to study horticulture. Living in inner city Sydney with no car, no money and absolutely no idea about horticulture, I somehow had to find my way to the somewhat rural, miles away suburb of Ryde each day to study.
I had spotted him when I sat the initial entrance exam, far away on the other side of the room. I was almost hysterical with delight and mirth when I rang Louella that evening and exclaimed, “It’s Dr Mason – he’s going to study horticulture with me!” We were weak with laughter at the prospect.
The day of our orientation to the course loomed close and I still had no conceivable way of finding transport to get me there. Therefore, it was imperative that I find a buddy, a driver, on this day. The morning dawned bright and clear, but alas I was sick. I sent my then boyfriend instead, with the clear instruction – find me a driver!!! Anyone – except Dr Mason!
So off he went in my absence. And I know you can guess the outcome – the only person who lived anywhere near the inner city, with a car, was our beloved Dr Mason. And so began my deep and life changing friendship with Danny Bolton.
We spent hundreds of hours together in his little green car, laughing, crying, talking, speeding. He introduced me to Krishna Murti, to the Spiritual Path, to the wonder of plants, to joy and the ridiculous, to the hilarity of farts, the depths of sadness. He loved me in a way that I had never been loved – with total unconditional acceptance. He adored me and wanted me to soar, to live the unexpected life, to be fully myself in all of my paradoxes and imperfections. He absolutely revelled in my complete ignorance of all worldly facts and my inability to succeed in any worldly sense. He was a Seeker of Absolute Truth. He was a complex, tortured and joyous soul. He was my friend, my protector, my teacher and mentor, my number 1 fan.
Danny took his own life when he was not much older than 50. He used to ask me if I was scared of pain. I was not even 30, so I had no idea of the answers to such questions, no such knowledge of myself. Now at 60 I know the answer intimately and it is yes, I am scared of pain.
Danny held so much love and joy in his beautiful, maverick heart, but also so much pain. In the end that pain took him away from me. I miss him to this day, sitting on his pink velvet lounge drinking tea, exploring the meaning of life, wandering thru his gorgeous garden, marvelling at life. He was full of life, full of love.
His Spirit’s final communication to me was “none of it matters, all the stuff we worry about – none of it matters. Only love, only love matters.” Thank you Danny.
A STORY OF A BRANCHING POINT IN MY LIFE
When I was three and a half we moved from Alice Springs to Darwin which was a big wrench for me but also signified the beginning of difficult times, struggles and changes to our family. Alice Springs was a place of safety and security and those early years were a happy time for our family. It is a town that sits low in the red dirt and silver grasses of the desert and is home to the Arrentre people who know it as Mparntwe. To the East and West the MacDonnell ranges stretch like fiery caterpillars protecting the town and its inhabitants.
In 1965, the year I was born, it only had a population of around 6,000 people. My parents had moved from the genteel town of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains to the wild frontier of the outback. Dad was a young ambitious lawyer embarking on his career, taking on both the trivia and violence of this outback town. Mum was looking forward to a bright future with her handsome husband and creating the happy family she’d never had. They already had two small boys and would go onto have four girls in this desert town.
Our house was on a corner, a small fibro and stone cottage with a large garden that fronted onto the dry bed of the Todd River. Several aboriginal families camped along the banks which were lined with huge River Red Gums. Across to the side of our house were the Mission Homes where children whose parents worked on remote cattle stations, stayed to go to school. My older siblings went on adventures and I spent a lot of time at the perimeter of our garden, trailing after one or other of them. I’d watch as my sister skipped across the road and disappeared into the stands of gums on her way to visit one of the families on the river. or look longingly at my brother’s diminishing figure as he headed across to the Mission Homes where he’d eat a meal with the kids there before returning home to eat again. The boys would also scale the back fence to visit the camels tethered in the yard behind us.
I waited patiently at the line where the safety of our garden stopped and the wild unknown began. I always had my beloved Koala toy, with its stiff sawdust body, beady black eyes and hard plastic claws. I loved to rub my cheek along its furry coat or clutch it close as I stomped up and down on the dusty piles of gum leaves, watching the particles spin in the air and the smells of smokey mint and honey waft up to my nostrils. Paddy melons were good to stomp on too, giving a satisfying pop, their noxious seeds spreading to take root and sprawl in the expanding carpet of vines.
My sister was at kindergarten and at the Bangtail Muster Parade she rode on the Kindergarten truck throwing streamers at the crowd. That became my greatest ambition too, to go to Kindy and be in the parade throwing streamers. Before that could happen, we upped and moved to Darwin for my Father’s career opportunities.
Although not even four years old I remember the leaving clearly as it was tainted with disappointment. I sulked the whole way, a sixteen hour drive. We children were all crammed into the back of the Green Holden station wagon, hot and sweaty, our thighs and bums sticking to the vinyl. Mum held the baby in the front seat.
In Darwin we moved into a house on stilts with a flight of stairs up the front. I hated all the space under the house and found the staircase terrifying. I would crawl up slowly clinging to the bottom of the rail. I missed our sturdy little house so firmly planted in the ground, the red dust and grey spinifex of home. I missed the gigantic gums and the dry river bed.
This was a green and verdant place of dense foliage, swamps and crocodiles, tidal beaches with black slimy slugs and sea wasps, pythons, green ants and green frogs. A place of hot torrential rain and wild cyclones. A place of devastation and destruction, of alcoholism and affairs, madness, apocalyptic Gods and violence. A place of lost adults and lost children.
As I grew older I stopped missing Alice Springs and forgot about all the things I had loved there but the years of safety and security I had known as a small child stayed with me and I never stopped missing the family that we were.
Australia Day is a contentious event. It marks the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 and the declaration of British Sovereignty. It is the last public holiday of summer and for many signifies the end of the summer break and the return to work and school. Events such as Australian Honours and Citizenship ceremonies are routinely held on this day. Australian Flags are everywhere.
DAY OF MOURNING
For First Nations people this event is a day of great sadness. It symbolises pain and grief; the loss of people, culture, land. Invasion Day. Survival day. In 1938 the first protest was held by Aboriginal people in Sydney and Australia Day was declared a Day of Mourning.
The conference was chaired by Jack Patten (right). Image: Mitchell Library Printed Books Collection, State Library of New South Wales.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
THE FLOWER AUNTIES
Our family was an island floating in a sea of loneliness. No Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles or Cousins sailed in our waters but the Flower Aunties bloomed strongly in my imagination. My Grandmother had died when Mum was born and, according to my mother, she came from a large family of girls all named after flowers. The details were scant however and Mum was always elusive when I asked for concrete facts.
‘How many are there? What are their names Mum?’ I’d plead. Eventually I stopped asking questions and in my childish mind they remained ethereal; pale outlines of floating flower heads with ghostly bodies draped in diaphanous fabric.
By the time I was a teenager, the Flower Aunties had gained more substance. Somewhere along the way they became six women; Poppy, Daisy, Lily, Jasmine, Alyssa and Rose. I could see them in my mind’s eye; prim dark haired women, immaculately dressed in pastel silk tea dresses with matching purses, together on a day out in town. Their heads bobbing in unison agreeing over a purchase, leaning together to whisper over a handsome gentleman, giggling in delight.
The years passed and the Flower Aunties faded in and out of my mind in the bedlam of life. There came a time though when I determined to find these absent elders.
One by one I located the details of all of my Grandmother’s siblings. There were three sisters and six brothers and not a flower to be picked among them; Leslie, Edna, Robert, Lyle, Clarence, Oliver, Aubrey, Mary and Lillian. I felt both saddened and strangely relieved. These were flesh and bone. These were real people and they belonged to me.
Photos and anecdotes emerged to show that my mother had indeed known at least her Aunties, right into adulthood. At first I was furious with her. These relatives were well and truly alive through my childhood and many into my adult years. By all accounts their lives had not been easy and they were a resilient bunch. I wondered how it might have helped me at times of struggle and challenge to know these tough and gritty people were behind me, a few still walking the earth.
Why my mother had kept these relatives secret I will never know and can only surmise. Married to an esteemed lawyer, perhaps she was ashamed and had wanted to leave her rough and ready relatives behind. We grew up in the Northern Territory and they lived in Sydney so there was no risk of contact.
What I do know is that losing her own mother left a deep wound in my mother that would permeate her whole life and that of her own children. Violet her mother’s name was. My Grandmother Violet … the seed of the Flower Aunties myth.