Mum was a determined and feisty woman, and she loved a good laugh. She wouldn’t have wanted to see us all moping about. She didn’t want a fuss. Right up until the last she kept a positive frame of mind. So I’m going to try and keep this upbeat.
We often marvel at how brave Mum and Dad where when, aged around 30, they left their family behind and set off for a country they’d never even visited to provide us with a better life. Mum loved making costumes (and for a while she actually worked for Brisbane Costume Hire). Whenever there was any sort of fancy dress party, Mum would make elaborate costumes. Spring cleaner, a caterpillar poking out of lettuce, the Milky Bar Kid. In primary school she made me a costume that for our mediaeval day that was so elaborate I DIDN’T win ‘best costume’ – because they thought it must’ve been hired.
Mum didn’t have an easy start in life, and I think this is why she tried so hard to make sure us kids didn’t go without when we were growing up. Even though money was often tight, she made clothes for us and for my sister’s Cindy dolls. She also designed tshirts before it was trendy. This may be hard to believe but when I was little I was skinny as a rake. My family nickname was ‘Ironman’ and so Mum made me my very own Ironman tshirt.
Mum had an adventurous streak and she knew what she wanted.
Shortly after Mum and Dad married in 1968, Dad knew this dodgy geezer who used to swap cars all the time. Dad was trying to get rid of his bomb and went to see what Stan had on offer … and ended up bringing a London Taxi home. You know, those black, blocky things? Mum took one look at it and said, ‘I am NOT riding in the back of that thing!’ So Dad had to trot off and find something else.
Another story from those early years. Mum wanted to learn how to ride a motorbike, so she got her provisional licence and Dad rode them out to a quiet country lane so Mum could practice. Mum got on, Dad hopped on behind her, and away they went. They crossed a rise and there was a policeman and, when he saw Mum weaving back and forth across the road, he signalled for her to stop. Unfortunately, Dad hadn’t yet taught Mum how to stop, and frantically trying to explain how to stop the bike as it hurtled down the road. The policeman had to dive out of the way to save himself. Luckily, he had a sense of humour.
Mum actually ended up becoming a driving instructor – for cars, not bikes. Mum told us about this one client who had the disturbing habit of swerving into the path of oncoming traffic for no apparent reason. Eventually, Mum told her, ‘You are never going to get your driver’s licence’. But the woman kept booking lessons.
There’s a saying that goes something like: life is what happens when you’re busy making plans. That totally WASN’T Mum. She travelled Australia extensively with Pete – she’s seen far more of this country than any of us since we emigrated in 1980. She has worked as a fruit picker, seamstress, admin assistant, driving instructor, gardener, cotton chipper.
Motorcycles also ended up playing a big part in Mum’s life. After she met Pete the two of them travelled extensively on Pete’s bike, and later in a campervan and caravan which they renovated together.
I wanted to include some funny stories. They don’t really mean anything on their own but together they give an idea of how Mum was always up for a laugh, even at her own expense.
Her brother Chris told me about this time in the mid-70s when he was around at her place helping look after us kids. Mum was buzzing around the kitchen trying to sort out dinner for us and some food for the dog.
When things had quieted down, everyone was in the lounge room when there was an almighty bang. Mum and Chris rushed into the kitchen to find the room coated in dog food, with the tin embedded in the door.
What had happened was that in her rush to get everything sorted, Mum had left a tin of dog food on the stove, which she’d forgot to turn off!
Sharon recently told me of an incident where Mum put some rice on to cook, came back to the stove a while later to find the rice had disappeared. Mum was freaking out, trying to figure out how rice could just disappear, until she realized that she’d not put rice on to cook. It was sugar!
So Mum had her moments in the kitchen, but I still think her roasts were the best ever.
Mum loved a good laugh.
When Sharon and Mum were working for the Stubbies clothing company, one afternoon they were rushing for the bus. There was a bit of roadworks going on. Sharon jumped over the hole in the ground, her friend jumped over. Mum went to jump over... then realized the skirt she was wearing was a bit tighter than she remembered. Down she went, into the hole. Sharon was laughing hysterically, Mum was too, and the people who came to offer a helping hand must’ve been thinking ‘what are these two on?’.
When Mum and Pete were living in Trangie, in western NSW, for a while they lived on a massive property. One night they were coming home from the pub and realized they’d forgot to leave a house light on. Driving into the property, they got off the beaten track and drove around in the pitch black for ages, trying to find their house. After about half an hour mum managed to spot the chook house and regained her bearings.
One time, this was a few years ago now, she was out with Sharon and Hayley, who at the time was wearing a patch over one eye to strengthen the other eye. Mum had bought fairy floss for Hayley and Ben. Ben was at home. Hayley was going: ‘Mum can I take my eye patch off, Mum can I take my eye patch off, Mum can I take my eye patch off’. Sharon said no. Then Hayley handed Sharon something and Sharon, thinking it was fairy floss, put it in her mouth – only to discover it was actually Hayley’s eye patch. Mum laughed so much she wet herself.
On a more serious note, Mum was always there for us. Mum has always had faith in us. In fact, at times Mum has had more faith in me than I’ve had in myself.
Carol remembers when she was little she said she wanted to be a nurse when she grew up - Mum said "No, you want to be a Doctor". She said she wanted to be an air hostess - Mum said "No, you want to be a pilot". Mum believed us kids could do anything, but at the end of the day she just wanted us to be happy.
In recent years Mum really enjoyed her garden at the property at Gin Gin. She was so proud of the fruit and vegetables she grew there and took great pleasure in nurturing her crops.
Before Mum and Pete got the place at Gin Gin, Mum told Sharon: I want a humpy dumpy on a bit of land, with a verandah where I can sit in a rocking chair and shell peas. Pete bought her the rocking chair and the humpy dumpy – for her 60th birthday last year we bought the red colander to shell the peas in. I know that people are going to say that Mum died too young. And, obviously, we all would have liked to have had her around for a few more years. But I think it’s important to remember that Mum really LIVED her life. She didn’t take a back seat and let life wash over her.
We wouldn’t wish for another week or month with Mum as she was. We would wish that she never got sick and she never had to suffer what she did.
I’d like to end with a quote that, I have to admit, I only found because I was searching for quotes. It’s by Grace Hansen, and it goes like this:
“Don't be afraid your life will end; be afraid that it will never begin.”