November 7

Mum's Birthday 1984

I realised probably too late today it was the anniversary of mum’s death. She died on November 7, 1984, and this photograph (attached) was taken at her “final birthday”, February 7, 1984. I was on the verge of my nineteenth birthday, and mum was only 62 years old when she had a heart-attack. She had also suffered with asthma and kidney disease. On the morning of her heart-attack, I tried unsuccessfully to bring her back to life, so you might imagine her death has been one of the most significant moments in my life.

Though the date “November 7” is one I remember strongly (two days before my own birthday), I guess the day slipped me by, until late tonight I checked my phone and realised the date.

In the early days after mum and dad died, I would remember the dates every year. The first anniversary, the first Christmas, the first birthday are the dates you most often remember in those early years. I would often think about them. The memories were strong.

But thirty-something years later, it’s sometimes hard to remember the “details”. These days, some memories are very strong; others not as much. The intimate moments are strong. The smells. The sounds. But some thing have passed by. That’s what happens, I guess, with the passing of time.

And in twelve years time, I’ll be the same age as her when she died. Wow.

There’s a much bigger story to tell, and one day I’ll share it, but not yet.

Family Scans

After the glorious weather of the last few days, it’s turned colder and we’re getting some rain here on the North Coast. For my family, it’s welcome relief, as they’ve been complaining about the high humidity, the thunder and lighting, but no actual rain to offset the pain.

Also as a positive, it’s meant we’ve spent most of the afternoon today indoors, going through and scanning family photograph albums. It’s such a fun thing to do, as we giggled at the photographs we found. And there’s the added benefit of being able to preserve and share these photographs around.

With that in mind, here’s a few I found of myself from my younger years.

Same, Same but Different

Nimbin Valley Cheese at Lismore Farmers Market

“OMG, it’s Kerry”, I shouted out inside my heard. Instantly, I realised I shouldn’t be surprised since I knew Kerry was a regular at the Lismore Farmer’s Markets. I’ve known Kerry’s partner, Paul for almost forty years (since the start of high school), and Kerry for about a decade. Or is it longer? Because I’ve lived away for so long, and probably because I’m getting older, memories are beginning to fade.

I obviously lots of very familiar memories of childhood, having grown up in Lismore until I was eighteen. I then had a further five years where I was regularly commuting (most fortnights, if not most weekends) between Brisbane and Lismore. And then as I moved away to Bourke, Renmark, Wagga and Sydney, the visits became less regular. And my contacts with Lismore became more directly focussed on close family and friends. There was never enough time for a week-long visit to see too many people, including more distant family. There has also never really been too much of an opportunity to meet new people. So when I go for a wander around the block, there’s hardly anyone I know. Seeing a familiar face is a rarity.

But that said there’s also a real familiarity about the place. Because my family has been in the area for over 100 years, and because I come from larger families, there’s an awful lot of people I see in the street who look familiar, and it’s because we’re probably related. I had a beer in a local pub this afternoon, for example, and there was a bloke sitting nearby who I spotted. “You’ve got to be an O’Brien”, I thought to myself. Though,in response, I’m sure he was probably thinking “what are you looking at mate”?

From time to time, I’ve toyed with the idea of moving back to Lismore. Unless I had a super interesting job which allowed me to meet lots of new people, or made a concerted effort to become super social, it might be difficult to create a new adult friendship circle back here. There again, you never know. But no, no plans to move back just yet.

Mum’s Birthday

Mum's Birthday 1984

As it’s my birthday, I went searching through my photographic archives for images from birthdays past. Oddly enough, I don’t have a lot of suitable photographs of my celebrating, but I did find one from a birthday I remember vividly. It’s me and my mum celebrating her birthday in Feburary 1984, just nine months before her death. Her birthday was Feburary 7, and she died on November 7, just two days before my own birthday. At the time there was a lot of concern in my family about having her funeral on the day of my own birthday. In the end, she died on November 7, and was buried on November 8. Given the proximity to my own birthday, it’s an anniversary I’m sure I’ll never forget. Even though it’s a long time (thirty years) since mum and dad’s death, I still think (and dream) about them often.

Mum's Birthday 1984
Mum’s Birthday 1984

Now Hear This

NHT
NHT

I didn’t expect to, but ended up telling a story at the “Now Hear This” story-telling night in Sydney tonight.

I told the story of my great-great grandmother who had a relationship with her first cousin (no, I don’t have two heads). After the birth of their fourth child together, he married someone else and had four more children. My great-great grandmother then went on to live a somewhat shambolic life, it seems, until she ended her life in the “destitute women’s asylum” in Sydney, and was buried in a “pauper’s grave” at Liverpool Cemetery. She died of heart disease, though you might say she also died of a broken heart. What would it have been like to have had a long-term relationship with your first cousin, only to see him leave and form a new family in another state? We’ve had some contact with the “other family” and they had no idea we existed. In exchanging photographs, it’s pretty clear we are related as we look like each other very much.

The story-telling night was, as usual, handled beautifully by Melanie Tait and will be heard sometime soon on the ABC ‘s RN.

The Big Visit

Fireworks at Darling Harbour

The view of Sydney Tower (I still call it “Centrepoint”) from the twenty-sixth floor of The Hilton is pretty bloody good. It’s a fact I discovered on Friday when my relatives, Michelle and Shane booked in for a weekend in Sydney.

Michelle and Shane have been to Sydney a few times. In fact, they were last here a few months ago. But Michelle’s seven year old son, Sam has never been on a plane before, and has never been to Sydney before. It’s been three years since Michelle’s seventeen year old son, Ryan has been to Sydney. And it’s seventeen years since Michelle mum, Pat has been to Sydney. This weekend, while Ryan stayed with his father, and Pat stayed with me, Michelle, Shane, Sam, and Shane’s sister booked in for a luxury weekend at The Hilton.

While all this happened, my role for the weekend was tour guide. I was the guy who knew how far it was from The Hilton to Sydney Aquarium; how to catch a ferry to Manly; and where we could find child-friendly places to eat in Sydney’s CBD. It’s a role I lived playing, as it was a chance to give my family a better insight into the place in which I call home. “We’re on your home turf now”, Shane said to me at one point.

It was quite an interesting experience to see my family outside of Lismore. Whenever I go home, I go back into the role of younger brother, uncle, and so on, whereas in Sydney, I got to be myself, the 46-year old with family responsibilities. I loved it.

A real, unexpected highlight for me was Sydney Aquarium. We planned the visit ostensibly for the seven year old, though it turned out to be as interesting and as much fun for the adults as for him.

I also got to do a bit of baby-sitting for a while late in the afternoon on Saturday. When I was asked the question, “Do you have a playstation, Jim?”, I suddenly realised my house isn’t all that well set-up for a seven year old. With a park across the road, an internet connection, and a disturbingly high level of junk food in the neighbourhood, I realised it wasn’t so hard. “I’ve given him two litres of red cordial and a jumbo pack of green frogs”, I joked as I handed him back. Seven year olds also love fireworks, so thank goodness, they’ve resumed on a weekly basis at Darling Harbour.

Overall, it was a great weekend, though a little exhausting being a tourist in your own city. The back of my legs still ache from all that walking.

And what’s a weekend without a big family shock revelation? Guess which member of the current Big Brother house I’m related to? Bradley, of course!

Sunday Sunday

Nickson Street, Surry Hills

What is it about rain and the Queen’s Birthday Holiday? Although I can’t be sure, since I haven’t checked the records, it feels like it rains every year on this holiday in Sydney. In some ways, that’s okay, since rainy day holidays can be just as much fun as the summer ones. Life indoors, cooking, socialising and so on, can be a great way to spend the long weekend. You don’t HAVE to go away.

So for me, yesterday was reasonably quiet with just a bit of shopping and cooking. And then today, has been, and will be a day for going out for dinner. A friend and I went for lunch, today, at the Bavarian Bier Cafe in Bondi. He’s having some respite respite time at an aged-care facility there. One of his concerns about moving to Bondi was that it’s sometimes difficult to get to and from the city via public transport. Today, however, I had a dream run, as it took just over thirty minutes to get from my place to his. And then tonight, I’m heading out to The Balkan. Well, if the rain holds off. Lots of meat and potato for me today. :)

But the absolute highlight of the day has been receiving an email out of the blue from someone who worked with my dad back in the late 70s and early 80s.

Bertha Ann Dunn and Albert Bernard O’Brien 1982

It was my pleasure to work with John at LBH from early 1976 til his retirement in 1981. Johnny at that time was almost as old as my grandfather and i was fresh from school so he stumbled into the job of mentoring me. I’ve only written to tell of my great admiration for him, his quiet wisdom and general no fuss attitude to get the job done. He was certainly well liked amongst his work mates and i still think of him often when one of his lessons comes to mind.

Isn’t that the most beautiful email? I was sitting on the bus coming back from Bondi when I read it and almost got a little embrassingly teary.

He’s right too. Dad was a wonderful, gentle man. I was only sixteen when he died and there are many times in my life when I would have liked a little of that wisdom. I would also have liked to have gotten to know him when I was old enough to know him as a man, and not as my dad. Unbelievably, it’s almost thirty years since he died (the anniversary is June 22). Can you believe time passes so quickly?

Family History

Me and my dad, probably some time in 1966.
Me and my dad, probably some time in 1966.

I was looking tonight at a photograph of me and my dad. By the look of things I’m less than twelve months old, so it was probably taken sometimes towards the end of 1966. Dad’s wearing a cardigan, so it was probably the winter of that year.

As I looked at the photograph, I suddenly realised how close I am now to being the age my dad was in the photograph. He was born in September 1917, so he would have been about forty-nine years old at the time.

I still have a couple of years before I catch up with him, but it was still interesting to look closely at the photograph and think about stuff. He still had a fair bit of hair, whereas I pretty much lost most of mine about ten years ago. Is that a pen in his top pocket? Yeah, I think so, as I always remember my dad having a pen and often his glasses case in his top pocket. He’s not wearing glasses. Are they jeans he’s wearing? What must it have been like to have been close to fifty years old and suddenly find yourself with a young child to raise?

Researching my own family history is something which continues to fascinate me. There are so many amazing stories within a family, especially mine. You learn so much more about the motivations of the people who you’ve grown up with, when you look into their history. “Ah so that’s why so and so did that?”, I’ll often conclude.

After a bit of a break, I’m back writing and researching at the moment. I’ve recently had some interesting correspondence, and there’s nothing like a bit of feedback to make you go back and look at what you’ve written, and realise it’s time for a re-write, and time to more accurately reference and record the research you’ve done.

I’ve also begun research on some ancestors I haven’t previously taken much of an interest in. At the beginning it can be a slow, painful process, especially when your ancestors weren’t all that famous, often couldn’t read and write, and so the “public record” about them is often a little thin. Through this blog and through the research I’m doing now, I’m hoping it won’t be so difficult for people in the future. Although it’s pretty unlikely I’ll be like my dad and finding myself with a young child to raise over the next few years, I’m hoping a little of me will live on in the research I’m doing now.

These are the areas of research I’m interested in.

Home for Easter

Sitting on the back verandah, watching the lightning.
John Ibrahim in The Northern Star
John Ibrahim in The Northern Star

If it wasn’t for Blues-Fest (held at nearby Byron Bay), the local paper, “The Northern Star” would have been a fairly thin volume today. Aside from the “social page snap” of Kings Cross nightclub owner, John Ibrahim, there wasn’t much to be found in today’s paper. Normally, when I come home, I can always find an hour or two’s entertainment in reading the paper, catching up on the hatched, matched and dispatched column, but even that was a bit “light on” today.

Today was a day of visits to cemeteries and nursing homes. We went to visit an ageing relative in Casino who recently moved into a nursing home. Sadly, another family member has succumbed to the combination of dementia and Parkinson’s Disease. She didn’t really remember us until prompted, and even then we weren’t all that sure she really did remember, or if she was just saying so. And then she said something about one of our “big family secrets” which meant she hadn’t completely forgotten everything.

We also went to visit the grave of an uncle who died recently, and who is buried in the same cemetery as legendary musician, Winifred Atwell which I’ve also blogged about.

The family was also interested in visiting the East Lismore Cemetery where my dad’s parents and my mum’s father are buried. It’s also the place where mum and dad buried a still-born child called Joan back in the 1950s. Although older family members must have known about this child, the younger ones certainly did not. Joan is buried in an unmarked grave under a tree. “Why is she in an unmarked grave?”, Nancy asked, to which I replied, “I guess it’s because they didn’t have the money for one”. We’ve never been a wealthy family.

We also spent a fair bit of time this afternoon and evening on the back verandah. We watched the sunset and we watched the lightning which, contained in a rather large cloud system, was rather spectacular.

I guess that’s what I like most about coming home for Easter – just hanging out. When you live 800km away from your nearest and dearest, the phone calls tend to be about the major things in life. The thing I like best about coming home for Easter is that you get to experience the everyday things.

My nephew's favourite book at the moment.
My nephew's favourite book at the moment.

For example, I learned this trip that my now seven-year-old nephew absolutely loves his fart joke book. As he read countless jokes out to me, I remembered how much I used to love fart jokes also. Hey, I still laugh at fart jokes now. One of my all time favourite jokes is Bette Midler’s joke…

I was sitting on the ferris wheel with my boyfriend Ernie and he said to me “did you just fart”? I said to him, “Of course I did Ernie. Do you think I always smell like this?”

I guess it must be part of the humour gene that only resides on the y-chromosome. I also learned this trip that my nephew believes his nan should go on Master Chef, and could win solely on the basis of her home-made sausage rolls.

It’s also nice to be home as my niece awaits the birth of her first child. As she awaits the birth, her partner has been working for the City Council on the construction of some new roundabouts. If you’ve ever been through Lismore, you’ll know that it’s a city of roundabouts, but apparenytly that hasn’t stopped motorists stopping their cars and getting out to abuse the council workers working on the construction of these new ones. That’s such a Lismore story.

It’s nice to be home.

More History

Unmarked grave for Joan Kathleen O'Brien, East Lismore Cemetery

I went in search today of details about the still-born child my mum and dad had back in 1953. As with many things in my family, it wasn’t something that was talked about. Indeed, when I mentioned it to one of my older sisters, and showed her the record from the online historical indexes of the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, she seemed genuinely surprised.

Although unnamed on the BDM records, a visit to the Lismore Lawn Cemetery revealed she was buried on July 10, 1953 and that her name was Joan Kathleen O’Brien (named after an aunt). With a map in hand, I set off to the East Lismore Cemetery to find her, which I eventually did in an unmarked grave in the midst of another of other infant deaths. Although she doesn’t have a headstone, there’s a lovely tree overlooking her grave.

She’s also buried not far from my dad’s parents, James and Lena who died in 1944 and 1953, respectively. I was pleased to discover their previously unmarked grave also now had a heastone. I assume it must have been erected by the children/grandchildren of their son Matthew (known as Robert or Bob), who also now has a headstone. Perhaps it’s time for one for little Joan too?

Aside from a visit to my aunt – the one little Joan was named after – it was a day back at work for me. Although I’ve been doing lots of work over the last few days via the mobile and the netbook, I needed to go in today to sign a few things, make a few longer calls and so on.

And then tonight I went to the Tropical Fruits Film Festival at the Star Court Theatre. The Star Court was the cinema I used to go to most weeks as a child. Although a few things have changed, it remains relatively unchanged from the early to mid 80s renovation that occured. It was funny to hear the Film Festival spokesperson refer to it as an “old cinema”, as it seemed still modern in comparison with what I remembered as a child.

The films? There were a couple of good short films. My favourites were “Last Call” (about a bloke whose relationship with Mark failed because of his alcohol problem, who wants to get back with him, but who realises things have changed), “Oscars First Kiss” (about a male uni student chatting up a female class mate on a tram, but who ends up with an unexpected same-sex first kiss), and “Hens and Chicks” (about a lesbian couple with an eight year old daughter who need to have “the conversation”). All three were very enjoyable.

Less enjoyable was the longer featured called “Flow Affair”. It’s a fascinating story about “flagging” in the gay and lesbian communities of New York. “Flagging” is an art-form which involves a lot of twirling flags around in dance clubs, pride parades and so on. It’s quite an interesting story. It’s such a shame it was told so badly with almost no narrative evident. The film needed a damn good editor to chop at least 30 minutes out of it and to give it some structure, IMHO. It’s not enough to have a series of vignettes where a group of people keep saying over and over again little more than, “I like flagging. It makes me feel great”. Boring.

The main feature was a film from Romania called “Trip” about a group of twenty-somethings living in a share house of sorts who take drugs, have sex, and generally hang out in a pretty wild post-communist kinda way. It’s a pretty out there film, but I enjoyed it very much.

On the way home I called in to The Civic for a post film drink. It was pretty amusing to see a pretty average working class bar in my home town overtaken by the Sydney and Brisbane gays who’ve arrived for tomorrow night’s New Years Eve Party.

“You planning to have a bet”?, the barmaid asked me as she collected up the TAB information cards. “I think you’re safe to put them away”, I told her with a smile.

Scanning The Past

Although I was a reasonably fat as a baby and I’m reasonably fat right now, there was a time from about 1980 to 1990 when I was actually quite thin. In fact, you might say I was waif-like in this particular photograph taken in about 1982. Any wonder my mum kept trying to feed me :)

I discovered this photograph which I’d long forgotten while going through some family albums with my sister tonight. The imperative for this particular bout of nostalgic activity was my purchase for her of an electronic photo frame for Christmas. I pre-loaded for her about 50 older and more recent family photographs, mindful that she had a lot of photographs I don’t have copy of. The quid pro quo was that I got copies of lots of photographs, and she got someone to load some more photographs into the frame.

We had a pretty good production line going on. My sister went through the albums identifying suitable photographs for scanning and carefully removing them from the albums, I scanned them and did the appropriate photo-shop work, and my nephew replaced the photographs in the albums. It took us maybe a couple of hours to scan and edit about a hundred photographs. Along the way there was a lot of laughter.

Here’s a couple of favourites from tonight’s activities First a photograph of my dad taken in about 1980 I think. As we lived on the outskirts of town, we often had wildlife come into the backyard. Mostly it was cattle from the neighbouring property… or snakes… but on this occasion it was a kangaroo or a wallaby (I can’t tell from the photograph).

And I love this one taken at my sister’s wedding in 1968 featuring my dad, my mum and my granny. It’s odd to think I’ll be the same age next year as my mum was in this photograph. Dad looks like me may have enjoyed a drink or two. Granny looks grumpy…

Are You On Skype?

Skype

I was both excited and surprised when my sister asked me tonight if I was on Skype? We were chatting about life in general, what she’s been up to, what I’ve been up to, her plans for retirement, and my plans to visit China. It was a lovely conversation.

And then all of a sudden she asked me if I had Skype.

It was not the kind of conversation I expected to have with her. As I’ve mentioned previously, in my family I’ve tended to be the “tech guy”.

About ten years ago when UHF television was introduced on the North Coast, I spent at least two days of my Christmas holiday on the rooftops of various family members doing antenna installations. And then about two years ago, when digital set-top boxes became all the rage, at least half a dozen of them sat in cardboard boxes until I was home for Christmas and able to do the very basic installations. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing it, and in the midst of a family of carpenters, cooks, sewers, plumbers and mechanics, it’s good to know I have an important role: “the tech guy”.

Accidentally discovered Skype HQ
When I accidentally discovered Skype HQ in Stockholm in March this year

But tonight, as we chatted, Pat told me her daughter had recently bought her a laptop, and although she doesn’t know how to connect to the internet yet, she’s seen Skype work and would like to try it out with me.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. It seems my monopoly on all things technical might be coming to an end.

If family members can now connect to the internet and chat to me on Skype, what role will I have this summer when I go home for Christmas? I can’t just sit around and do nothing. Well, actually for much of summer, I’ll be working from our office on the North Coast. But in between, what will I do?

I’ve booked a ticket for Tropical Fruits NYE, but that’s just one day. I’ll go out for lunch and dinner with friends, of course. But what will I do in the meantime, if my family no longer has need for “the tech guy”? I’m feeling slightly redundant to my own existence :(

Anyway, Pat and I are planning a Skype conversation for Saturday afternoon which, I guess, means I need to tidy up the lounge room before then.

PS. I tried out the re-opened Charcoal Chicken Shop tonight. As I expected, it’s a little more “upmarket” these days, specialising in Portuguese Chicken – the flattened type with chili sauce – which was very, very, tasty.

Dreaming About My Dad

Me and my dad, probably some time in 1966.
Me and my dad, probably some time in 1966.

You know how sometimes you wake up in the middle of a bad dream? Well, this morning I woke up in the middle of a good dream. It would have been nice to go back to sleep and continue the dream, though of course that wasn’t possible. It was a dream about my dad.

I was 16 (twenty-eight yeas ago) when he died from an awful condition called Multiple Myeloma (a plasma cell cancer). With the passing of time, sometimes it’s hard to remember some things about both mum and dad. And yet this morning’s dream was incredibly vivid.

Oddly enough, it had a Swedish connection. Yes, really. In the dream my dad and I were travelling in a car in the countryside. He was driving and I was using my mobile phone to take some video of us together to send back to my mum.

Minutes later we were climbing a snow-capped mountain in Sweden, and somehow we were strong enough to be dragging the car behind us.

It was an obviously very modern dream. And yet I as had the dream, I could almost feel my dad next to me. He was happy and healthy – pre-cancer – and we were having a wonderful time together.

The last time I had such a vivid dream about my dad was several days after he died. Both my sister and I had similar dreams that night, and we had compared notes.

Throughout the day I’ve been thinking about what the dream meant, and why I had the dream right now. The conclusion I’ve come to is that it has something to do with my “wanderlust” at the moment with three overseas trips in two years. I can’t help but wonder how mum and dad would have felt, since they both lived most of their lives in Lismore, and only ever left Lismore to visit family and friends in neighbouring towns and cities. Or perhaps it’s not that literal? Perhaps there’s a deeper meaning?

As I came home this afternoon, I went online to find out what dreaming about your father meant, I found these possible explanations here…

(1) For men, father may be a conscience figure. If this is the case, bear in mind that your father’s prohibitions and commands will probably represent either conventional moral options which may have no relevance to your true nature or ‘destiny’, or irrational fears and feelings of guilt that began to take shape in you in earlychildhood.

(2) For a woman, father may figure in a dream as one who generates affection.

(3) The presence of your father may be a straightforward representation of him, or of the way you see/remember him (which may owe more to your subjective distortions than to what your father actually is or was). In any case, the reason for your father appearing in the dream will be shown by the part he plays in the dream story.

(4) If your father features in the dream as a protector, it may be that you need to ‘grow up’ and rely on your own resources. After all, life can hurt you only if you let it, only if you identify with your emotional self instead of with that deep layer of yourself that is immune to life’s pains and perils.

(5) Father may be an animus figure (see Glossary of Jungian Termnology), representing a woman’s (unconscious) masculine qualities. In this case, the dream may be suggesting that she should cultivate this countrasexual side of her nature.

(6) Frequent appearances by either parent, or both, in dreams may be a sign that you have not thrown off an infantile over-dependence on them. Jung cites a young man’s dream in which the man’s father appeared as a drunken driver, smashing his car into a wall. This is the exact opposite of the real father, who was a most respectable person, rightly – but too too much – respected by the son. What the unconscious was doing through the dream was dethroning the father in order to enable the son to achieve a proper sense of himself as a person in his own right, with his own unique destiny and values.

I’m sure there are lots of other explanations.

Whatever the deeper psychological meaning, I just know it was a lovely dream about my dad, and one that made me feel good as I woke this morning.

Monday Monday

Cyclamen

It’s amazing the number of people who come in to my office and comment on my new cyclamen. It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?

A couple of friends gave it to me a few weeks ago when Gloria died. At the time, many of the buds had not opened. Since then, with steady watering and just about the right amount of filtered light, it’s gone from strength to strength. It’s a wonderful, joyous thing to keep me company throughout the day.

And I needed a bit of company today, as the mid-winter flu/cough/cold thing which affected me last week continues to affect some of my colleagues.

It’s a weird one this year. I had a day in bed, and since then have been “just a little bit sick”. A bit of a snotty nose, that’s all. In contrast, a colleague has had most of the last week in bed with a fever, aches and pains. “I was on the phone to my mum crying at how sick I was”, she told me today.

On arriving home tonight I made a pretty simple pasta dish, using probably too much sour cream, and hit the couch. Media Watch, Q&A… that’s about it. That’s my Monday.

This Week

IMG_1489

About this time last week Grant, Graeme and I were watching the Eurovision Song Contest. In the midst of all the frivolity, I got one of “those” phone calls. It was a phone call telling me that Gloria was close to death, and wasn’t expected to survive the night.

Gloria had been in a nursing home for about three or four years, living with a combination of Dementia and Parkinson’s Disease. The phrase “full of life” was a phrase that you would use, without resorting to cliche, to describe Gloria. These conditions, however, had combined in an incredibly cruel manner. She was only 64 years old. I knew the phone call would eventually come to say her life was over, but it still hasn’t been easy.

I went to work on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and came every night and sobbed. Late on Thursday night, I got a phone call from Sharon to tell me Gloria had died about thirty minutes earlier.

The last few days have been difficult. I’ve come to realise sleeping is my main coping mechanism for grief. I think I’ve slept maybe two-thirds of every day since.vI wandered out today for a while, as Colin had invited me over for lunch which was a welcome relief. Through it all I’ve felt incredibly supported by family and friends. I feel very lucky in that regard.

Today and tonight I’ve pretty much finished writing the eulogy which I’m to deliver on Wednesday. Trying to make sure you do justice to someone’s life is so incredibly hard. In the end all you can do is be honest and pray that what you say gives comfort to those left behind.

When I Was Five

This was before I started school, as we were still living in Kyogle Street. I'm guessing I was about 4-5 years old.
This was before I started school, as we were still living in Kyogle Street. I'm guessing I was about 4-5 years old.

I played football or catchies or a combination of both with my five year old nephew this afternoon.

Well, I threw it to him so that he could catch it. And then he threw or kicked it back to me, which meant I had to run half-way around the yard as some of his hand-eye co-ordination skills are still developing.

He’s going to kindergarten at the moment, ahead of starting school next year. And thus, he still has the great innocence and joy of youth. He’s passed the terrible twos, but hasn’t reached the cynical sixes yet :)

Did I feel in any way clucky? Nah, as he’s quite the chatter-box. Believe me, a small amount of a five year old goes a long way.

I love his honesty though. My family have started to calling me “James” instead of Jimmy, which I’ve been known by for almost all of my adult life. “It’s Jimmy, not James” he keeps reminding them.

I guess they’ve come to a collective decision you can’t be a “Jimmy” when you’re 44 years old. I quite like, however, having a name that my family calls me that no one else does, except perhaps when they’re being sarcastic.

It’s part of that bond you have with your family, but not your friends. And equally you have a bond with your friends that you don’t have with your family.

So today, we just hung out. We watched some television. We went to the supermarket. I renewed my Worker’s Club Membership, we visited some relatives. Nothing much in particular, but rich in many ways.

Facebook Family

Bertha O'Brien (Dunn), James O'Brien, Bertha Dunn (Rixon)
Bertha O'Brien (Dunn), James O'Brien, Bertha Dunn (Rixon)
Through Facebook I’ve recently made contact with some long-lost extended family members. And this week, two of them have left some interesting comments on an old photograph I posted a while back of me, with my mum and my granny.

“Wow, I havent seen many photos with granny in them”, one of them wrote, while the other added, “oh my god. i can’t remember granny when she could walk around. I remember your mum but not as good as i thought. they look so much like nan. i cant believe it”.

They’re my second cousins. Their mother Julie was my elder first cousin with whom I grew up, and I remember when they were born. I was also page-boy at their mother’s first wedding. And now they’re in their twenties (thirties?) with children of their own.

Both comments, as well as some recent events in the family, have been a reminder I’m no longer “the younger one” in my family. Suddenly I’m the grown up who the younger ones look up to (kinda), and who the older ones rely upon (kinda).

At the funeral of my similarly-aged nephew, last year, for example, I found myself moving between the generation I grew up with, and the remains of the older generation who I used to look up to. Of my mum and dad’s brother’s and sister’s (a total of 10), there’s only two left.

“Who’s that?”, I was asked by my ageing aunt at one point, telling her it was the husband or child of “such and such”.

In each family, of course, there’s always someone who is the lynch-pin who keeps everyone in contact. In my family I guess it was my mum and my granny. And when they both died, and there was no longer a house on which to focus the family connection, a lot of us lost contact. I have cousins, for example, who I haven’t seen for maybe twenty years. I have no idea, for example, where my cousin Lorna is, these days. Her mum died in 1978 and I can’t recall the last time I saw her.

I always thought it was odd when a long lost aunt or cousin or whatever would suddenly turn up at our house when I was a child, and it was revealed my mum or dad hadn’t seen them for twenty years. And now, of course, I know exactly how it happens.

Most of my family have stayed in either Lismore or Brisbane, but having been away from my hometown for such a long time, I’ve missed out on seeing the extended younger generation growing up. Of course I know my immediate, immediate family, but it’s the children of the extended family that I’m only just coming to learn about. It’s odd though, since I know their parents very well. And of course we share the same DNA. An interesting, kinda odd, feeling in many ways.

I’m sure one day the information we’re sharing with Facebook will come back to bite us on the bums, but in the meantime it’s been wonderful to reacquaint myself with my extended family. And, as is the style of Facebook, it’s been fun to see photos of them acting like idiots!! :)

Yes, we defnitely have the same DNA! No doubt about that…

10 Fascinating Tales

I spent a couple of hours at the State Library of NSW today going through old copies of “The Bombala Times”. As part of my family history research, I was keen to find any newspaper references to the period immediately after the return home from World War I service of my maternal grandfather.

Charles Dunn Arrives Home

“Who cares? Why do you do it?”, my friend Graeme asked me the other week, “what’s the point of it all?”.

On a personal and often intimate level, I guess it helped me go some way in understanding the way in which my parents, grandparents etc have reacted to many of life’s events. And then on a broader level, I guess it’s partly because I’ve spent so much of my life working as a journalist. There’s nothing quite like chasing a good story you actually have a real connection with.

And there are some great stories (in no-particular order)…

10. WAR RECORDS: Mostly, it seems, my family hasn’t been one for going off to war, with one or two notable exceptions, including my maternal grandfather, Charles Henry Dunn. During the First World War, he enlisted as an adult, went to war on the Western Front, was injured a few times and then returned home. I never knew him, but I knew his wife and children, and so I think that personal connection has helped me understand a little more of the individual circumstance of people who fought in World War I.

9 TOWAMBA: I’m absolutely fascinated by the small village of Towamba, near Eden in southern NSW. Quite a few of my ancestors come from the town, a beautiful little village in a very remote location. At the time they were living there, however, it was real “Deliverance Country” with first-cousins getting married and a bizarre shooting over a cricket match.

8 ACCIDENTS AND MURDERS: Ancestors were there for the discovery of the body of the man who became known as Fischer’s Ghost; the accidental shooting on a young man in a remote location; and the sudden death of someone at the workplace. There’s lots of other odd tales too.

7 NOT AN ATTRACTIVE BUNCH: My ancestors weren’t a pretty bunch. Perhaps the best example of this is Mary Ann Goward, my dad’s grandmother.

6. NON-ENGLISH SPEAKERS: The shipping records for Allan McLean and Janet McFarlane who came form the Inner Hebrides in Scotland in 1838, confirm English wasn’t their first language. They confirm that although some of the family, including Allan, could read and write English, they were, for the most part, speakers of Scottish Gaelic.

5. CONVICTS: My convict ancestry includes the following : James Rixon; Amelia Goodwin; John Hoare; Robert Higgins; Anne Owen; James Laing; and Mary Fitzgerald. They were mostly sent to Australia due to crimes of poverty, but there were a couple who were also rebellious Irishmen.

4. THE REBELS: John Hoare, who came originally from Wexford, was a member of the British navy who was transported to Australia over his involvement in “The Great Mutiny” of 1797. At the time, Hoare was on board the aptly-named HMS Defiance and was a member of the United Irishmen, who were lobbying for Irish independence. Another, Robert Higgins was sent to Australia after being court-martialled during “The Walcheren Expedition” (July 30 – December 10, 1809), a very large British military operation (and failure) during the Napoleonic Wars.

3. LOST FORTUNES: John Love came to Australia on the Third Fleet as a member of the NSW Corps whose role was to supervise the convicts. In common with other members of the NSW Corps, John was “given” considerable land-holdings. However, he was also involved in the illegal production of rum, stole cattle, and illegally employed a bushranger. The result of all this was the loss of all of the land he was given and the last years of his life spent as a convict himself.

2. ROOTING AROUND: There’s a LOT of shot gun weddings, and also some occasions where they never married at all, including one where the male went off and started another family. The death record for the aforementioned Robert Higgins also notes he and his wife separated (as early as the 1820s) over an extramarital relationship.

1. WILLIAM AND ELLEN: The most fascinating tale I’ve uncovered concerns the story of my maternal grandmother’s parents, William Rixon and Ellen Laing. They were actually first cousins who had four children together (my grandmother was their second child) in a very small community half-way between Eden and Bombala in Southern NSW. About two years after the birth of the fourth child, he married another woman and moved to a nearby town over the border in Victoria where he died in 1929. Ellen spent most of her adult life living with other family members, including her two daughters, at locations including Bombala, Lismore and Sydney. Ellen spent the end of her life at Newinton State Hospital and Home which had a history of providing support for destitute or aged women.

So yes, lots of fascinating stories which probably also go some way in explaning a bit about me.

Because I Don’t Have Kids

Sydney Mint
Sydney Mint

I suspect it’s because I don’t have kids that I can lead the lifestyle that I do. Sometimes I’m incredibly busy; other times I’m incredibly lazy. I suspect that if I had kids I would need to lead a more regular, more ordered lifestyle which may or may not be a good thing.

This thought occurred to me earlier tonight at Grumpy Old Women at the Capitol Theatre, the stage show based on the BBC television series of the same name. In their midst of their very funny “schtich” about getting older, menopause, having sex and so on, their were a couple of genuinely tender moments, as they reflected on their fears of death and the joy that came from children. “I worry about dying and leaving my children behind”, Linda Robson said, “Because no one will ever genuinely love them as much as I do”.

Of course, you may recall that I met Linda Robson last Friday night at the Crystal Palace Hotel. On a whim, a colleague and I went to the pub on Friday night, only to have Linda sit down next to us. I instantly recognised Linda because she played Tracey on the BBC series, Birds Of A Feather, and after a polite enough interlude I asked her for a photograph. She was sitting there with her daughter, I suspect, and her grand-kids, and, as granny, she was for a moment anxious to make sure the grandkids could happily and legally sit outside the bar, asking me if it was okay. “Sure” I said, totally unaware if it was or not.

Of course, that wasn’t an issue for Martin and I. We just sat down and did it. We didn’t have to think about it. We didn’t have to plan. We just did. It’s been pretty much the same over the last week.

Last Thursday night, for example, I left work at a time that suited (I have a healthy work ethic and do more than my my fair share of hours) to head off to the Sydney Mint, for the launch of this year’s Writer’s Festival. Having arrived right on time, maybe a little early, I found myself a little “Nigel No-friends” for a while. There was a speedy resolution as two older women (no, not Grumpy Old Women), both with an interest in writing and history, brefriended me. We chatted about history, politics, the media, and numerous other topics ahead of the official launch. The only thing they were grumpy about, by the way, was the Howard Government, and “we voted for him” (they told me).

But yes, like much in my life, it was something I could do without having to think too much about others.

The same was true on Saturday night when I caught up with Mark who has just moved back to Sydney. “Feel like a beer?”, he said. No consultation, no one else to tell, no baby-sitters to organise. It will be the same catching up with some other bloggers next week at The Sydney Weblogger April Meetup. Just make a commitment to myself to go and do it.

Even tonight, on the way out of work, on a whim I asked Miss Andrea if she’d like to join me for a meal in Chinatown, ahead of going to see “Grumpy Old Women”. Although she’d already made plans, they were quickly modified and we had an enjoyable meal at BBQ King.

Tonight’s show, by the way, was great fun. With many memorable moments of “observational comedy” (which I normally don’t like). Most memorable was the Jenny Eclair monologue, when she related the embarrassment of farting during a massage, and then wanting to giggle so much she was afraid she’d wet herself as well. Also memorable was the monologue about how life for “women of a certain age” is full of various bags.

And then afterwards, I came home to surf the net and watch television and so on. And it occurred to me, ahead of writing this blog, this freedom comes from not having children. Of course, when I was in a relationship a few years ago I had to think about someone else. No, I didn’t HAVE to think about someone else, I WANTED to think about someone else.

But now I can be as spontaneous as I want to be. For example, I can spend Good Friday doing absolutely nothing except watching television. I can make those decisions to go out to dinner on a whim.

And does it make me happy or unhappy? Well, I suspect you’re thinking I’m gonna say no, and how I really want kids, and I really want a family and a relationship… and my life is empty without those things. But I don’t actually think it is. I mean, I wouldn’t mind a relationship.

But it’s also quite okay to live alone, to be spontaneous, to do things on a whim etc. Maybe when I’m 10 years older I’ll regret this feeling, that I haven’t made those “relationship plans” for the future, and I suppose if that occurs I’ll be able to look back on the folly of my forties with regret. But at the moment, it’s okay that I don’t have kids.

P.S. On Monday I had amusing moment when I received a work-related phone call from blogger, Harley. “Oh hello”, I said, recognising his name, “I know you, I read your blog”. Hehheheheh, he laughed in recognition. “I don’t know why I came through to you”. “Because I’m the boss”, I joked. “You haven’t been blogging much lately”, I told him. It was rather amusing to hear a real live voice on the phone from someone who I was partially convinced did not actually exist in “real life”. But yes, he does exist, dear reader, but his voice wasn’t as I imagined it might be.