As the iris from my gran’s garden begins to fade, I’ve been thinking about her a lot.
Gran has had a big impact on my life. From the age of eight, when we moved back to Australia from PNG and settled near my grandparents, they were always there. Every Friday they would come and help out whilst we were all at work and school. Gran would clean the house for mum and Papa would mow and weed and occasionally prune the heck out of things - much to mum’s despair. From this early age I’ve been suspicious of the power of men wielding pruning gear – more often than not, they don’t know where to stop!
Gran’s major focus in life was her family and working hard, I’d like to think she has left me these legacies – along with a love of gardening. Her story is probably not all that usual and I wish I knew more it. But, like many women of her generation she was extremely private and after she married Papa, her life became his with only limited contact with her own family (for reason’s I guess are explained by her early story).
Here’s what I know:
Gran was born into a working class family in 1915. They lived near the George’s River in Sydney. At some point her mother left, leaving behind two daughters and a husband. This fact was never even know to my Mum, who believed her maternal grandmother was dead, until after Gran’s death when we found some letters. From one relative to another, the letters indicated that my great-grandmother had gone to England but that the family conspired to talk of her as ‘dead’ from that day forward. I can only imagine how this early desertion effected my Gran. My imagination can’t help but run with this story. Was she the victim of domestic abuse? Did she meet a soldier post WWI and run away overseas with him, disappointed with the way her life turned out and looking for a better one? Or worse still, did she just simply disappear – either dead or into a life on the streets?
Gran and Papa met when he was working on the railways in the depression. He was the only member of his family working and supported all 7 of the family throughout the depression years. Marriage brought 4 children (one who died at birth and is laid in an umarked grave as was the custom of the time). And unusually, Gran carried out paid work throughout her life. As the owner of a corner shop in a small country town and later as the manager (yep that’s right) of a government cafeteria.
The day she died is etched in my mind. Gran and Papa had been on a trip to Tasmania. Returning home, they went to pick up their dog from a friend who lived out of town. Papa turned in front of an oncoming car with the sun in his eyes. Gran died, the dog lived and Papa lived to be tortured for another 7 years. And wierdly, I knew the moment it happened. Returning from a trip to the coast with a new boyfriend, I was panicked to be in the car. It was exactly the time of the accident.
So today, I have bits of this loved woman in my home and garden. And the mantra I try to live by is her’s – to maintain a close supportive family and work hard. In my kitchen is a little plaque which hung in Gran’s kitchen for as long as I can remember. It is from a time gone by, but I like to think that I live the modern equivalent.
As I look at my bits and pieces from her life, I would love to find out what happened to her mother, where her son is buried and much more. For the historian in me not knowing is hard – but she obviously didn’t want to share these things. So, I am content knowing I can remember her through these things and maybe one day I will find the answers to some of my questions.
Iris, 1915 – 1991