for Mum on her 70th birthday

When I was little, I found a dead toad and took it to Mum and she said wow! and took it from me and put it in a brown paper bag and we buried it at the foot of a tree and a while later (almost forever) she let me dig it up and inside the bag was a beautiful creamy white toad skeleton and some bits of brown crusty stuff and a little gore stuck to the bag and mum said see the ants ate the rest and she let me take the skeleton to school to show my teacher and all the kids.

Once, I had been waiting in the car a long long time at the Karana Downs Country Club and I finally got out and walked around the back and peered into the doorway and there was Mum, leaning on the bar and she said something and all the worker men started laughing and she started laughing and I was shocked because my Mum had like actual friends.

Long ago we used to drive to Sydney to visit my grandparents. Road trips were the best and there were many best parts. Driving through the night following a big truck emblazoned with lights because Mum said he has a birds eye view and it’s safer to follow behind him. And she would tell me her growing up stories. Having breakfast at a road stop and Mum laughing with the truckies as if she was one of them as she ordered our breakfasts: a miniature box of cereal and if we were hungry bacon and eggs on toast with real butter. Driving under the New England mountains as the sun rose, luminous green looming above us as we sped on past.

Perhaps her growing up stories were the best – about Newcastle and the Indigenous shanty that grew up beside it because the Indigenous people were not allowed into the town at night. About running free through the bush, climbing trees, playing in the creek. About taking her brother on the bus on a Saturday and going to the movies and having enough change from a penny (or whatever the money was back then) to get some yummy treat and the bus home. About the times my Granny Vik (Mum’s mum) was in hospital with TB and she and Poppy were sad but at least they got to eat their favourite food: tinned braised steak and onion!

One time we were driving home and got pulled over at Warwick for speeding and the copper discovered Mum’s license was a few years out of date and Mum was really mad but she calmed down and waited for Dad to come and he didn’t even bring someone to drive his car so she ended up driving home anyway.

Mum used to help out at school. We had a big station wagon as there were so damn many of us and she would arrive at the school, pile a dozen kids in, including many of us loose in the boot, and take us to the pool or local sports ground, museum or wherever. And she did reading help and was grossed out by one boy’s wrist to elbow snail trails of glistening green. Not that she told us about that back then. And she’d cook really cool nut loaves in a cylindrical tin for the school fete. Till she compared the cost of ingredients to the profit made and started donating money instead.

And the kids at school were jealous because now and then Mum would pick me and my sisters and brothers up from school on a Friday lunchtime and the car would be packed for camping and we’d get dad and the whole family would go camping at Christmas Creek and get to hang out in the water making and unmaking dams and later sitting around a campfire watching the smoke go past the treetops and join the stars.

And her crying one evening because she was all ready to go to her basket weaving course and dad hadn’t come home from work (again!) and it was one more thing that she had to put aside for his work, for all us kids. Which was why she snorted when he got nominated for Senior Australian of the Year, though she went with him to the various ceremonies, and the trip to Canberra and loves going with him every year out to some country town that everyone always means to go to one day but never does. And they have a good old time together.

Mum loves her garden. When I was a teenager and she had blessed me with seven younger sisters and brothers I said to her hey you never talk to me and she said well I’m not going to sit around inside all day come out to the garden with me. And I put on one of her straw hats and a pair of stiff gloves and she set me to work pulling out cobblers’ pegs and packed up her wheelbarrow and took off to a different acre.

Mum loves her craft too. Despite dad’s early lack of respect for her creative time, she has learned to make quilts, beautiful quilts and leaves dad behind from time to time to travel far away and buy exotic fabrics or learn a new skill and takes the time to see the world a bit while she is at it. Once we went to a quilt show together at the Ekka and marvelled at the artistry. And then we went to look at the chooks and Mum whispered loud enough for everyone around to hear that the roosters wattles look like balls and suddenly we were surrounded by bright red wobbling, twitching testicles and we were laughing raucously and had to get out of there.

Well, Happy Birthday Mum. It’s been quite the ride, and I’m sure there are many adventures to come!
Rowena.

Some other posts about Mum and her family

from my mother’s childhood
under Wivenhoe
mum|dream
farewell granny vik

gratitude #7/10

Neighbours, today I am grateful for my lovely neighbours. Yesterday I was feeling a little low – I had taken a week’s leave to get the garden sorted, and a big list of projects to complete. Six days later I realised that despite having worked really hard and being exhausted, I was not going to get it all done. Then the ladies from across the road popped by and one told me she was glad someone was giving the house some attention and the other gave me some empathy for the overwhelm I was feeling. She also shared her plans for her garden. So I got some acknowledgement, appreciation, shared reality and connection. I am feeling re-inspired today 🙂

Two mandalas in my front yard planted with a mandarine & mulberry and veggies under the mulch

Farewell to QUT

On Friday I said goodbye to my friends and colleagues at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). It’s been hard. Not only have I loved my QUT friends and my role as librarian, I have also appreciated a wealth of support, mentoring, and opportunities to grow over the past four-and-a-bit years. QUT was also where I completed my Honours and Masters degrees, and where I first found interesting and rewarding work as a research assistant and research administrator.

The best measure of my transformation? when I arrived at QUT in 2001, I was a single mum on welfare, working part-time cleaning pub kitchens. I had never logged on to a computer. I didn’t know what email was, and took a few days to understand the differences between my username, password and email address. A month later I got my first assignment back – 19.75 of 20 marks. And eighteen months later I was working as a research assistant. I have not seen the ‘wrong’ side of a pub counter since. This transformation didn’t happen because I am a genius. About 95% I attribute to the professional and academic staff who took the time to explain the technology, the assignments, how to research, all the different things I needed to know and do. The remaining 5% I attribute to my desperate desire for a happy future for *my family.

I think my story really illustrates what the QUT culture is all about: creating opportunities for folk who don’t count for much elsewhere, and helping them unearth and realise who they really are. I only hope that as a librarian I have been a successful part of that culture, and that I can take the same philosophy to my new library role…

Goodbye QUT, I am taking a little of you with me ❤

*a big shout out too, to my parents and extended family for their love and support!

ANZAC Day 2017

I have returned from a very local Dawn Service. I love the service – a gathering of neighbours, local schoolkids and their families, the congregation of St Mary’s.

Highlights this year – we sang the New Zealand National anthem! Such a beautiful, musical anthem, we were led by a tall, handsome  young Maori from the local badass high school. My partner (who would dress entirely in Aussie flag themed attire if he could), sang along beautifully as well.

A wish for the future – that the ceremony would mention the role of women and families, and the impact of war on the community. There are plenty of soldiers in my family, including an ANZAC and a youngest son who died in Sandakan. Also a member of the Czech resistance and another youngest son – a Ukrainian who perished, location unknown, in WW2. My Grandfathers both suffered from Post Traumatic Shock, one became an alcoholic and caused no end of trouble for my Gran. The other was an overzealous disciplinarian, I remember when he died, trying to make a connection with my Dad but unable to make the necessary amends.

And the mothers! Anna Honcharova who spent her whole life waiting for Pavel to return. Did he die of the cold? Of injuries or illness? Of hunger? Was he one of the severely injured who was too ashamed to return home? Where was he?

And dear Eileen Evangeline Chase Morris McGregor – her darling Robbie died at Sandakan, nearly at the end of WWII. She was such a tough old stick, but would tear up whenever she remembered him, how they sent parcels of food to him via the Red Cross, but that it never reached him.

I wish we could hear more stories and poems from these perspectives on ANZAC Day.