Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 95. She died 23 years ago and I still miss her. She was my hero – and best friend – as well as my mum.
In her mid 30s, just as the Second World War was ending, and people could begin to see a future again, her world fell apart. Her husband died of TB and left her to raise their five children. He had remained in Australia during the war because he was a bricklayer and was required to build airports and other important infrastructure needed by the war effort. Because he was not a returned serviceman my mother was not eligible for any war pension or support. I cannot imagine what a struggle it must have been.
She eventually met my father, who was a returned serviceman and struggled throughout his life with post-traumatic stress. I came along when she was 44 – a classic ‘menopause’ baby – her sixth child.
We were very close. My four brothers and sister were all much older. My sister even had her own child when I was born – an instant auntie!
We shared a love of reading – especially science fiction. We shared a love of cooking – of trying new and ‘adventerous’ recipes (in 1960s Australia even an avocado was exotic!). She tolerated my love of footy – this was a passion I shared more with my sister who took me to matches every Saturday when I was a teenager. We used to talk a lot, my mum and I – about our hopes and dreams. Hers unrealised, mainly due to circumstance; mine yet to be realised. We shared a love of social history; of family history. We would write away for documents and eagerly await their arrival when we could add another piece to the family history jigsaw.
She was an advocate for human rights and feminism way before they became popular. She helped settle refugees arriving in Australia after the war. She was a mentor to many, a confidante, a shoulder to cry on. When I announced at the age of 16 that I wanted to be an agricutural journalist and that I would therefore need to go to agricultural college, she didn’t bat an eyelid. Not until the headmaster at my school told me that ‘girls didn’t do agriculture and certainly didn’t go to agricultural college – I could become a nurse or a teacher’. My mum marched into his office and told him I could do ‘whatever I bloody well wanted, and his role, and the role of the school was to support that, not block it’. There was also the small problem that agricutural colleges at that time didn’t accept girls – there needed to be an amendment to the relevant legislation. By the time I was accepted into Longerenong Agricultural College as part of the first intake of residential girls, many letters had been written by my mum to politicians about the rights of girls in general, and her daughter in particular, to study agriculture. This seemingly small step was the start of my journey to realise my dreams. A journey I continue today.
My mum would love to be alive today. She would have embraced the internet – and maybe would have realised her dream to be a writer. Maybe she would have had a blog too. She’d be proud of the work I do and glad that I have opportunities to work in places like Armenia and Uganda and Indonesia. We would sit for hours and talk about my experiences. I miss that. I miss her.