How are you? I hope you’ve had a great week, and if I’d remembered to clock on yesterday I’d be able to offer you some Apple Slice or Banana Cake. However, they’re all gone now. So, life’s pretty tough. You’re stuck with the Tim Tams.
I’m really not too sure what happened last week. There was a serious incident at my daughter’s school, and that took over the rest of the week, and I was left scrambling to return to some kind of equilibrium. Fortunately, I seem to be there now, and hope to get out for a good solid walk this afternoon, because I’ve been falling behind on that front with all the rain.
Fortunately, a friend had recommended reading Eddie Jaku’s: The Happiest Man On Earth. It was just what the wellbeing doctor would’ve ordered because his fundamental message is that even in the darkest of places, there is always hope, and even human kindness. BTW I should’ve mentioned that Eddie was a German Jew who was on the run from the Nazi’s during WWI and ended up in Auschwitz. Ironically, he came across a close friend there, and this friendship proved critical in his survival. It’s a really important read, with so many incredible pearls. After all, the best pearls are pieces of wisdom, not jewels.
Meanwhile, I finished reading Mark Lamprell’s novel: The Secret Wife and launched into a bit more reading about women and work in the 1960’s. I ended up reading through articles from the Australian Women’s Weekly, which were really interesting and I’m slowly posting a few of them. By the way, I’d also like to point out that these changes don’t just relate to women but our whole society, and are ongoing. It’s been good for me to see what we are living through now, and me personally through the lens of where we’ve been. There’s this one: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2022/05/01/working-women-in-1960s-an-insight/
I also followed up a dinner that was held in Sydney in 1961 for Women At the Top. My grandmother was one of the women who attended, but I didn’t know much more about it. Fortunately, we now have the world wide web at our fingertips, and I was able to fish out a really challenging story about it. The journalist was quite antagonistic towards the event and who these women at the top might be. It was definitely a case of trying to cut the tall poppies down. Here’s that link: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2022/05/02/australias-women-at-the-top-1961/
By the way, I hadn’t really thought about this before, but isn’t Queen Elizabeth the most high profile working mother in the world?!! Interesting.
Well, I’d better head off now. Hope you’ve had a good week.
Years ago, I stumbled across an intriguing press clipping from the early 60’s about a celebratory dinner: Women at the Top. The timing of this dinner, along with the fact my grandmother, concert pianist Eunice Gardiner, was invited aroused my insatiable curiosity. Who were these women, and what did they do to get to the top?
However, this was long before Australia’s newspapers and magazines had been uploaded, and unfortunately my curiosity ended up in the too hard basket.
That changed last week.
After reading Mark Lamprell’s: The Secret Wife, I found myself thinking about my grandmother’s career again, and I remembered this reference to Women at the Top, only now I had the vast resources of the World Wide Web at my fingers tips to find out more about it. The only trouble was that the information needed to be captured in the first place, and unfortunately, this stellar event received very little media coverage.
From what I’ve been able to piece together, Sydney’s Royal Blind Society hosted Women At The Top on the 8th February, 1961 at the Australia Hotel. It was based on a luncheon held annually in London, Women of the Year. Although it was held as a fundraiser, the dinner’s primary goal was to raise awareness of women’s achievements.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find out much about the identities of these women at the top although it was said: “These women will represent the academic, artistic, literary, professional and business life, as well as the cultural and sporting circles.” It was chaired by lawyer Mrs. Mary Tenison Woods, C.B.E. In 1950, she had been appointed Chief of the Office of the Status of Women in the division of Human Rights, United Nations Secretariat, New York. Mrs Phyllis Burke was the Publicity Officer for the Royal Blind Society. She had a degree in Economics, held membership of the N.S.W. Housing Commission, and also had nine children. The guest speaker was Madame Hélène BurollaudIt, Sales and Technical Director in Paris of the cosmetic firm of Harriet Hubbard Ayer. She was in Australia at the time, and was recommended by the Lintas advertising agency. The only other women mentioned were my grandmother, Eunice Gardiner, aviator Nancy Bird-Walton and the attendance of Lady Amy Woodward, wife of Lieutenant-General, Sir Eric Woodward, Governor of NSW, 1957-1965. Obviously, that barely touches on the 180 women who attended.
While it at least seems significant to me that this dinner took place in the early 1960’s, the write up it received by Sally Desmond in The Bulletin was equally striking. You would hope that as a woman, she would have been pleased to see this celebration of female talent, and cracks starting to appear in what we now as the glass ceiling. You would hope for zealous enthusiasm and support for the sisterhood, even in the days before “the sisterhood” had possibly even become a term. Instead, she is rather critical, and uses her pen sword to cut the tall poppies down instead. Much to my disgust, she specifically questioned my grandmother’s right to be there: “Miss Eunice Gardiner is a pianist, but having seven children has successfully wiped out any claim she might ever have made to being a top-flight one.” Then, she launched into aviator Nancy Bird-Walton: “Mrs Charles Walton is a pilot, but she doesn’t fly a jet on a regular route.” Please! These seven children hadn’t wiped my grandmother off the face of the earth. She was still giving professional concerts, was a music critic with The Telegraph and was also a Professor of the Piano at the Conservatorium of Music. Moreover, on the 8th November, 1960 (only a year earlier) she’d appeared on ABC TV on a panel interviewing African-American singer, actor and civil rights activist, Paul Robeson on the eve of the election of JF Kennedy. This was a really cutting-edge interview especially for Australia at the time. Meanwhile, Aviatrix Nancy Bird Walton had made a significant contribution to early aviation in Australia. She’d taken her first flying lesson from Charles Kingsford Smith, pioneered outback ambulance services and founded the Australian Women’s Pilots Association.
So, given the questioning and frequently challenging tone of this account of the Women At the Top Dinner, I’ve referenced the full article, and I’d be interested to know your thoughts. I’d also be delighted if anyone knew more about it:
Where is the Top?
When I spoke on the telephone to Mrs Phyllis Burke at Sydney’s Royal Blind Society about covering her “Women at the Top” dinner she was charming but evasive. “You can come beforehand,”she offered. “I can give you a list of the women at the top table. I’m afraid I can’t tell you what the speakers will say.”
Suddenly she broke down. “I’ve had such a lot of trouble with newspaper-women ringing and asking to be invited,” she said unhappily.
“But I’m nobody,” I told her, with a trace of modesty.
“Oh, then,” she said, “do come along! There’ll be a press table where you can have a cup of coffee and sandwiches or a glass of sherry.”
So I went and had a cup of coffee and sandwiches and a glass of sherry while 180 of Sydney’s Women at the Top ate oysters, grilled chicken and pineapple glace flambee and drank Australian wines. It was an awe-inspiring spectacle.
Perhaps what inspired most awe was how those women had got themselves there in the first place.
It was a wet, humid night, but 180 of Sydney’s Women at the Top got into evening dress, then left their husbands comfortably in front of the TV or in front of a long, cold beer. Perhaps some of them left him uncomfortably getting his own dinner or putting the children to bed. Then the Women at the Top had to back the car out of the garage or walk to the station. You can’t park within blocks of the Australia Hotel, so they had to walk, picking up skirts from the wet streets. Most of them had to walk alone, because being at the top is a lonely business!
Although when they arrived many of them seemed to know, or at least recognise, each other. You didn’t see too many peering at the tags with name and Profession which each guest wore.
There were only 180 at the dinner, although it was originally announced that 300 would be invited. Mrs Burke, who does publicity for the Royal Blind Society, and whose varying achievements: a degree in Economics, membership of the N.S.W. Housing Commission and a family of nine, got her to the top table among the Women at the Top, said that 255 had been invited and there were 75 refusals. Whether 75 refused because they were unsure of their own importance or not convinced of the importance of the dinner is an interesting question.
There was a guest of honor, Madame Helene Burollaud, who is sales and technical director in Paris of the cosmetic firm of Harriet Hubbard Ayer. She became guest of honor at the suggestion of Lintas advertising agency, but Lintas was modest about its part in the Women at the Top dinner. “We heard Mrs Burke was organising the dinner for the blind and we thought it would be a good way to get some publicity for Madame Burollaud,” their representative said.
The fee for attending the dinner was three guineas, but, Mrs Burke said, although it was hoped to make money for the blind, the primary purpose of the dinner was to focus attention on women’s achievements.
The Women at the Top all sat down together with only one man in the room, Mr James Hanratty, the head waiter in the Rainbow room. His staff are all women, which might have proved something to the Women at the Top. Mr Hanratty’s nice Irish face grew red and his nice Irish brogue grew more pronounced at the idea of 180 women sitting down to have dinner together.
“Of course, I’ve, had men’s dinners,” Mr Hanratty said, “and I’ve had things like millinery shows here, but half of them are men. I’ve never had all women at dinner before.”
And that was what was mainly wrong with the whole affair. It’s all very well for women to adopt what men like to think are their exclusive callings but why do they have to emulate men’s barbarous habit of one-sex dinners? Men have no social gifts except those poor ones which women after generations have beaten into them. This is called civilisation. Men can sit quite happily like boiled owls at all-male dinners listening to boring speeches, although intelligent men will complain of how gruesome it all is, but why on earth would women try the same caper?
A luncheon would have been much better. Sydney women sparkle at all-women luncheons. They’re a strong tradition and they can be bags of fun, mostly much more fun than all-men equivalents.
Mrs Burke said that the Women at the Top dinner was based on a similar affair held annually in London. But in London it’s a luncheon and it’s called the Women of the Year.
Being at the top sounds so final. What will the selection committee do next year if it does become an annual affair?
Go carefully through the list and see who’s slipped a bit? Or will the same 180 women face each other across the same tables and the same menu of oysters, chicken and pineapple glace flambee for years to come?
Women of the Year sounds much better. If you aren’t one of the women of 1961 you might remember warmly that you were a woman of 1951 or decide that with a bit of luck you might be a woman of 1971 or 1981. Women at the Top sounds so competitive and harsh, and few of the Women at the Top looked competitive or harsh. Many of them were very pretty and most of them were very elegantly dressed.
And most of them looked intelligent enough to question whether they were really at the top and intelligent enough not to worry unduly if they decided they weren’t at the top. After all, where is the top? Mrs Charles Walton is a pilot, but she doesn’t fly a jet on a regular route. Miss Eunice Gardiner is a pianist, but having seven children has successfully wiped out any claim she might ever have made to being a top-flight one.
Some of the Women at the Top didn’t seem to be taking it all too seriously.
But as long as any women take this sort of thing seriously, no one will take them seriously.
Clearly, Sally Desmond didn’t take the event seriously, and to some degree considered it a failure. That’s a shame, because an opportunity was lost to provide a serious account of what truly was a ground breaking event for the status of Australian women. It would’ve been wonderful to have hear a few quotes from Madame Hélène BurollaudIt’s speech, and more about who actually attended, rather than the paragraphs she wasted talking about their struggle to get to the dinner itself.
Such is life.
It would be wonderful to say that I’d managed to walk in my grandmother’s shoes in some regard. However, I did try to interview her about her career, but by this stage she was in her late 80’s and like most of us, she wondered where the years had gone and who the old lady was staring back at her in the mirror. She was very proud of her achievements and being known as “Melba of the piano” and the “Baby pianist of Bondi”. I always intended to juggle work and family myself, but my health intervened. Indeed, I wasn’t juggling anything, but medical appointments for awhile there. However, I did manage to get appointed to the Status of Women Committee of our local council, whose responsibilities included organising the International Women’s Day March down the main street. I also joined a group: Business and Professional Women (BPW) and was able to fly the flag publicly for a bit there. I haven’t given up, but I’m also aware that a percentage of young men also need to be empowered now. Indeed, all our young people are needing compassion and understanding after covid had made it so difficult for them to study, work, have relationships and essentially be young people.
Anyway, I’d love to hear from you.
As much as I’m not happy with the Queen being Australia’s Head of State, she has long been a working mother and I’ve never heard anyone look at how that might’ve impacted options for women during her reign.
Ryan was God’s gift to women…absolutely irresistible.
However, Melissa was a tough nut to crack, and she was driving him crazy.
She always started the day with a coffee. This morning he was waiting for her. There was no escape.
“No one gets in between me and my first cup of coffee,” she asserted without the hint of a smile.
“Are you sure?” He coaxed, oozing masculine charm.
The office was empty. He didn’t mean to. It just happened. Captured on four different security cameras. They both lost their jobs.
No one even questioned whether Melissa wanted coffee.
The issue of consent blew up here in Australia in February, 2021 after Liberal Party staffer Brittany Higgins went to the media with allegations she’d been raped while she was drunk and semi-conscious in Parliament House in 2019. Around the same time, former Sydney schoolgirl, Chanel Contos, conducted a poll on social media asking whether any of her friends who attended Sydney private schools had been raped or sexually assaulted. It went viral, and attracted significant media attention. She later submitted a petition calling for earlier sex education in schools to Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. Consent is an issue which often flies under the radar, but clearly needs to be brought to the surface.
If you go digging through my archives, you’ll notice that despite being a self-confessed book addict, I rarely write book reviews. That’s because I’m unfortunately more of a book collector than a voracious book reader. Of course, I have good intentions, and get carried away on the wings of fancy, but all too often the rubber doesn’t hit the road.
Anyway, today I’m breaking with tradition because I’ve just finished reading Mark Lamprell’s: The Secret Wife, and I’m too excited to keep it to myself. I absolutely loved it, and thought you might love it too. I rarely read non-fiction, and despite my best intentions, have often failed to finish even novels I love. So, the fact I was sticking matchsticks in my eyes to stay awake and finish this book, is a very strong endorsement. Indeed, to quote Australian music legend Molly Meldrum: “Do yourself a favour”, and read this book.
So, what was so good about it?
For me personally, I’m Australian and I enjoy stories from my own backyard, as well as reading foreign literature. Indeed, I suspect each of us likes to see our own world reflected back to us through the arts, as much as we also appreciate a more cosmopolitan diet. Yet, at the same time, it wasn’t consciously Australian and would easily translate elsewhere.
Secondly, I really appreciated the highly developed characterisation with his profound understanding of human nature. The storyline hinges on the friendship of two very different women, Edith and Frankie, their husbands and children and is mostly set in the 1960’s. Naturally, as characters in a novel, they go through many ups and downs, dramas, catastrophes and successes. Lacking in self-confidence myself too often, I related very strongly to Edith even though I’m a born extrovert and would’ve loved to be Frankie in my dreams.
I also really appreciated how Lamprell handled the interaction of this wily cast with the finely-tuned precision of a symphony conductor, yet with casual realism. There were times the characters became people I know, but I also felt Mark knew me like the back of his hand. I’m sure I got goose bumps more than once.
Another point I greatly appreciated about the book was Mark’s dynamic and complex vocabulary. Not all writers appreciate words, but I love words with a passion and am quick to take my hat off to those who make the effort (or even flourish). My kids have told me off for writing in books, but I always read books with a pen in hand, and my pen was very busy throughout (which is a great sign, btw.) I even jotted a few words in the back.
It is also worth noting that The Secret Wife is a historical novel. I was touched and impressed by Lamprell’s eye for detail and accuracy. It’s so easy to Google these things now, that there’s no excuse for getting them wrong. There is just enough detail to add flavour and authenticity, but not too much to bog you down.
All of that makes me sound intensely critical and punctilious (to steal a word from Mark). However, what we’re all looking for is a gripping story. A tale which draws us in and keeps throwing us bait until we’re caught hook, line and sinker. Where we can’t put the book down, yet we don’t want the book to end either. That is certainly true of The Secret Wife. The plot is also refreshingly unpredictable. He leads us up one path, and then we are taken somewhere else entirely, although not left alone lost in the dark either.
I know I’m saying a lot without saying much at all about this book. That’s because I know how much I hate spoilers. I just want a “yay” or a “nay”, and something to back it up. Yet, I’m busting to talk to someone about it.
However, I’m also into biography. So, once I like a book, or fancy an author, I want to delve into their head, their heart, their past, present…the works. (Indeed, I’ve been doing just that with author Ethel Turner over at my other blog Tea With Ethel Turner.) So this leaves me asking: “Who is Mark Lamprell?” and I suppose you might be wondering the same thing, and why I read: The Secret Wife, especially when I could’ve been reading your blog posts and works of fiction instead…
Well, the official answer is: “Mark Lamprell is an (Australian) writer of novels and children’s books published in sixteen countries and twelve languages, including the novels The Full Ridiculous and A Lover’s Guide to Rome. He also works internationally as a writer and director in film, with movie credits including Babe Pig in the City, My Mother Frank, Goddess, A Few Less Men and Never Too Late.“
However, for me, Mark Lamprell was also my uncle’s school friend. My dad was one of seven, and being the eldest grandchild, I was only ten and eleven years younger than my youngest uncles. So, it wasn’t unusual for me to be down at the house when their friends were around. Moreover, their house was a sprawling Californian bungalow. None of the doors were ever locked, and people simply came and went. Oftentimes, we’d be gathered around the kitchen table philosophising. One would be having breakfast, another lunch and someone else having a snack. It was definitely laissez-faire, although there were still non-negotiables like my grandfather wanting my uncle to get his hair cut.
Yet, as I’ve mentioned before, my grandmother was Eunice Gardiner, an international concert pianist, music critic and later professor piano at the NSW Conservatorium of Music. In the loungeroom, there was her Bechstein grand piano, and after my grandfather passed away, it was joined by a large concert-sized Steinway grand, which she’d brought out from England. Having two large grand pianos in your lounge room, certainly makes a statement.
So, the house had this sort of dichotomy, and that fits in very well with Frankie’s world in The Secret Wife. Moreover, like Frankie, there was so much we didn’t know about my grandmother’s career, and who she was. Indeed, I venture to suggest that everyone probably has their secrets. Things even our nearest and dearest know nothing about.
While The Secret Wife and I were obviously a very good fit, I ended up reading it because the publisher sent me a copy to review. I was attending a novel writing workshop with Graeme Simsion (author of The Rosie Project who I’ve reviewed before). I mentioned that I’d attended a similar workshop with Mark Lamprell at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, and the publicist said she’d send me a copy of his new book. I was delighted, and mentioned he was a family friend. The book duly arrived, and I thought I’d better read it tout de suite to honour the deal. No forgetting to read this book. By this time, I picked up an extra 38 “friends” at the Pearl Beach Book Sale. So, it wasn’t that The Secret Wife was without competition. I clearly needed to get reading.
However, reading The Secret Wife now was mind-blowing timing. A few weeks ago, I was contacted by historian, Ann Curthoys, who let me know that back in 1960 my grandmother had appeared on an ABC TV panel interviewing Paul Robeson, an African-American singer, actor and civil rights activist and soon of a former slave when he toured Australia in November 1960. The interview covered racism, equality and freedom and was recorded on the 5th November, 1960. Three days later, JF Kennedy defeated Nixon in the US presidential election, and it was broadcast on the 13th November, 1960. It was just under three years before Dr Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which followed a march by over 200,000 people on Washington on the 28th August, 1963. I was able to order a copy of the interview, and have been working on a transcript. I am gobsmacked.
So, reading: The Secret Wife which is set in this similar social context, was an incredible fusion. However, my grandmother was leading a different life to anyone really what with her prodigious talent and being married with seven children and still pursuing her career. But I think she just had this trajectory in her mind and it just kept going. She probably knew nothing else.
As for my grandfather, there was a miniature grand piano on their wedding cake. So, I doubt he had any illusions. My grandmother, her piano and her career were a package deal. There was never any suggestion she was going to stop.
Wow! There’s been so much to think about, and more to come. For now, I’m going to let the book settle. I really want to talk it over, and share it with someone (something I obviously can’t do in a review.) Maybe, I’ll start talking to myself.
PS One thing I didn’t mention was that my grandfather was the consummate book collector and my grandparents’ house was overflowing out the back and under the house with boxes, and boxes of books. Indeed, when my grandparents first got married, my grandfather’s mother sent over his books to their new home, and they apparently arrived even before the furniture.
Don’t you just love family stories?!!
Featured image: Geoff Newton. Thank you Zac the dog for posing for the camera. Since he spends much of his life sleeping underneath my keyboard and while I was reading the book, it seemed appropriate for him to appear in the photo.
This is Rosie. You’ve never heard from me on the blog before, because I’m rather anti-social, and despite being the smartest dog in the pack, I don’t come when called, and that’s not the only string to my rather recalcitrant bow. However, I am a hard worker, which is more than I can say for these humans who just sit around tapping all day, although Dad does throw the occasional ball and then mutter something about getting back to work.
Anyway, despite being what other members describe as “impossible to train”, I have become the favourite of the Little Miss. As I said, I’m not stupid and while that brother of mine, Zac, thinks he’s Kingpin just because he’s flopped over Mum’s lap whenever she’s awake, I figured out that the Miss was the one to aim for. Get into her good books. She’s the one who always seems to be heading out for long walks, and if she takes a dog, she always takes me and leaves the other two behind. Lady apparently sniffs and stops too much, and Zac just goes berserk. None of us like other dogs, but Zac is the worst. Zac is the worst at everything, even though his full name is Isaac Newton. Well, on second thoughts, he’s really good at sooking up to Mum.
Well, that’s just what Mum calls the back story. I’m just filling you in a little bit about how things operate around here, although I’ve left out how Lady caught a rat last week. She never chases sticks or balls, but if anything real is about, she’s onto it. She never gives up.
I decided to call this story “Mutterings of a Reluctant Traveller”, because I still haven’t got my bark back after a harrowing trip in a speeding contraption. Indeed, it was far more terrifying than the rumbles in the sky (thunder) and the beast which starts up just behind the dog bed (the printer). When it comes to this strange, white contraption, I must admit I was completely hoodwinked by Mum and Miss. They’d taken the other dogs out the back as usual and got me on the lead, and there I was thinking I was going for a walk, when instead I was shut inside the white contraption and restrained. While I was stricken with terror and dribbling faster than a leaking tap, Miss was so excited talking about taking me to Terrigal for a walk. The walk bit I understood, but what was a Terrigal? What was going to become of me? Just add to that the fact that Miss has only been driving a week, and see how you’d feel.
That’s why I don’t take any responsibility for what happened next, even though the evidence proved rather conclusively that I’d polished off my brother’s breakfast as well as my own.
Well, indeed, that’s my roundabout way of saying I threw up in the car.
I didn’t mean too. Honest. So, I don’t know whether I was meant to be sorry. Moreover, I don’t know how I could be called a bad dog when my stomach upended itself without any assistance on my part. Indeed, I actually felt rather hungry afterwards, and I kind of wanted it back. Anyway, no one called me a bad dog. All was forgiven, and I finally managed to go for my walk.
Well, that’s the end of my story. I’m now back at home sweet home, and I’m relieved. Dad said that’s the last time I’m getting in the car. Here’s hoping!
Love and pawprints,
PS: A Note From Mum
Rosie, you weren’t entirely without sin, and conveniently left a few things out, especially barking at other dogs. Her golden halo well and truly fell, and has now become her collar.
How are you? Hope was your week? I hope it went well.
My week has rushed by in a blur, and it feels like I’ve done nothing, achieved nothing and have simply been hovering in suspended animation. That’s not depression talking, butt more a state of conscious forgetfulness. Where was I last week? What happened’/ sometimes, it’s also a case of : “Who am I?” and it’s just as well my name is written down somewhere close by to remind me.
The reality is that I was actually rather busy. We are a family of four humans and three dogs. My husband works in IT for a university in Sydney with a hospital attached and has been the only network engineer available to go on site because his colleague is unvaccinated. Two people is pretty understaffed anyway, but with the overseas students being axed for the last two years, the universities have been a severe casualty in so many ways and the axe has been falling everywhere. We also have two teenagers – our son is now 17 and has always been known as “Mister” on here but he turns 18 in March, and has rather outgrown it. Miss is now 15 and working part-time at McDonalds and still dancing up a storm. So, we’ve been busy with end of year dance concerts, Geoff has end of year Christmas parties this week and I actually managed to post 17 Christmas cards.
Are you sending actual physical Christmas cards this year? Do you write a Christmas newsletter? These have always been big traditions for me. However, I don’t believe I sent more than a couple of Christmas cards over the last two years and I might have forgotten to email out my Christmas newsletter last year.
I’ve pulled my socks up this year, because I’ve realised that these Christmas cards are doing so much more than simply adding to Hallmark’s coffers every year. They help us to stay connected to a host of people who still mean the world to us, but we don’t see very often. They’re particularly important with people who aren’t online or Facebook. I don’t tend to ring people just for a chat anymore like I used to either. Here in Sydney we’ve had that massive four month lockdown. We live a bit North of Sydney in what in termed Greater Sydney. Now, Geoff is usually commuting to Sydney five days a week for work and I’d be down there at least once a month. However, we’ve only been down there once since the end of June and that was to see my parents and brother. We didn’t go anywhere else. We’ve also been laying low at home, and haven’t been back to physical Church so that’s a whole different swag of people we’re not seeing. So, the Christmas cards and the newsletter feel particularly important this year. We need to connect!
The weather has been pretty lousy lately but it’s a bright sunny day outside, and here I am indoors tapping away. The beach is only a few blocks away too. However, I have a support worker here today, and will have to wait til she leaves at 5.00pm. Meanwhile, there’s a pavlova cooling in the oven for our son to take to his Venturer meeting tonight, and then I’m onto preparing the fruit for the Christmas cake. I know it’s a bit late by most people’s calculations. However, Mum often rushed it through the night before Christmas so I’m way ahead.
Before I head off, I’ll leave you with a photo of the formal dress I picked up for our daughter for $20.00 at the opportunity shop last week. She doesn’t have a formal this year, but got all dolled up for photos with some friends who had their graduation formal. Here’s a pick:
Hope you’re going well and I look forward to hearing from you!
How are you? I hope you and yours are going well. I should’ve hot-footed it out the door as soon as I woke up this morning, because it was sunny, and I knew the rain was coming. However, you can’t carpe diem, and seize every day, and some days will just pass through to the keeper. That’s not to say I’m not seizing the day in other ways. I’ve been writing, and it’s a shame it doesn’t count as exercise, because I’d be very fit.
Yes, the word count is doing so much better, than the step count!
Last Thursday, was Geoff’s and my 20th Wedding Anniversary. We were married on the 9th September, 2001 at my school chapel, which was rather interesting because I went to an all girls’ school and we weren’t allowed to talk to boys in school uniform. Well, of course, I was hardly in school uniform when we got married, but I couldn’t resist having this kiss in front of the school office. I was a bit cheeky. However, when you go to a very strict, single-sex school, it leaves an impression.
Being in lockdown has presently seriously restricted our capacity to celebrate our wedding anniversary, along with Geoff’s work. The IT network at the hospital not unsurprisingly knew it was a special day and didn’t want their guardian angel actually having sometime off- especially with his wife. (The dogs weren’t impressed with it either, and Geoff was besieged by dogs armed with tennis balls when he arrived home last night). However, overtime does have it’s perks and it will help to fund our getaway if we ever manage to escape!
Anyway, thanks to lock down, I needed to get creative about celebrating our wedding anniversary. Although we went to New Zealand for our honeymoon, I decided we’d “go to Tassie” and relive a number of magical holidays in one of the few ways open to us – food. Geoff’s from Tassie and his father’s cousin’s own Ashgrove Farm Cheese in Elizabeth Town, somewhat near Launceston. We order a box of assorted cheeses from them, and a kilo of gourmet alcohol truffles from The House of Anvers nearby. Talk about pure indulgence. They’ll last for awhile, which is probably just as well, but it’s good to know that beautiful memories can taste good too.
The other aspect of our wedding, and in particular our honeymoon, is 9/11. We were married two days before the terrorist attacks, and flew to New Zealand 6-8 hours afterwards. It is hard to remember the sequence of events and it’s all complicated by the huge time difference. However, I think we worked out that the first plane hit around 10.45pm Sydney time and we were at the airport about 6.00am on the 12th. It was pretty terrifying, and the other complicating factor was that one of Australia’s major airlines, Ansett, went belly up that week and so my poor 87 year old grandfather from Brisbane who wasn’t much of a traveller, was suddenly abandoned in Sydney Paddington Bear style and couldn’t get home. This caused him and my Mum a lot of stress, but fortunately Qantas came to the rescue and got him home.
Before I head off, I just wanted to share an incredible duet which appeared on The Voice last night. It was the Australian finale, and in addition to performing their solo numbers, each artist also performed a duet with their coach. Bella Taylor-Smith and her coach, Guy Sebastian performed The Prayer and it was out of this world sensational. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Here’ the link:
Anyway, I’d better head off and get this posted quick smart. I must be the last person to post every week. However, I’m busy most weekends.
The beginning came perilously close to being the end. In hindsight, the wings of fate had clearly been hijacked, re-directing them into each others arms as a cruel joke. If “by the light of the silvery moon” Sylvia had kept sleeping through her alarm, she would’ve missed the team-building hot-air balloon ride for work. Then, she’d never have crossed paths with “Early Bird Ed” from accounts. Or, compared the magic sparkle in his irresistible blue eyes to that Byron Bay sunrise. That was the only sunrise they ever saw together. When they filed for divorce, they sighted “irreconcilable body clocks”.
This story is mostly fiction. However, I’m not a morning person and everything I read about going up in a hot-air balloons, mentions super-early 4.00 am or some other ridiculous time to be there, let alone wake up and I thought of a few couples I know who are like night and day and have incompatible body clocks. It’s a bit of a laugh, with more serious undertones.
I would also like to acknowledge the challenging times we’re living through, and I hope you’re all safe and well. It certainly doesn’t seem to be a time of complacency at the moment. I’m certainly being challenged, because I believe in equality for all, but what does that look like once the rubber hits the road, especially when my health limits the physical action I can take? However, I can write.
Meanwhile with everything going on around the world, we experienced something truly beautiful and life-affirming here in Australia this week where a teenager with non-verbal autism went missing in the bush. It was very challenging to try and find him. The search team went to great lengths to get themselves inside his feet (he doesn’t like wearing shoes) and played his favourite song from Thomas the Tank Engine from search cars etc and encouraged locals to have BBQs so the smell of food would draw him out. So many people wanted to help find him, they were turning them away. There was so much love and understanding for this young man and it was so refreshing. While we still have a long way to go with understanding people with disabilities, this was a significant breakthrough and so encouraging. Here’s a link to the news story: FOUND
In Australia, we have a program geared towards improving mental health and preventing suicide called RUOK and every year we have RUOK Day, which was held just a few weeks ago on the 12th September. However, naturally the idea is to use this question to start a conversation any day of the year.
I’ve been battling with this for awhile, because while it’s all well and good to ask if someone’s okay, you generally know they’re not which is why you’re asking the question. So, when they say no, or they deny what’s going on, what do you do then?
While they might even need professional help, it’s often difficult to get someone into treatment and we as family, friends, work colleagues and even strangers are called in to bridge the gap. It is fundamental to my personal ethics to stop and help someone who is suffering and not be that person who walks away, turns a bling eye. Yet, people who are doing it tough can be difficult to be around…depressing, angry, poor communicators, smelly. So these were some of the issues I wanted to raise through my well-intentioned Good Samaritan who finds it all a bit too hard in the end.
Although the situation doesn’t resolve well in my story, more than likely it takes a number of attempts to get through to someone who is doing it really tough. There’s an ad which encourages people not to give up trying to quit smoking because they’ve already failed before. They say that it takes a few attempts to quit. It’s probably the same with encouraging someone to open up. We need to keep the lines of communication open, have a few people to share the load and do not give up.
For all of us, there is this strange other world our parents, grandparents and even siblings inhabited before we came along. Yet, while we know world history was going on before we were born and stuck our proverbial tail in the donkey, it can be harder to grasp that the people closest to us had a life before we came along. Sometimes, the threads from these experiences are woven into wonderful stories told time and time again, which become part of our family fabric. On the other hand, these experiences can be thrown right to the very back of the cupboard and either not mentioned or strictly guarded and kept locked away behind closed doors.
This all becomes rather more complicated when your relative had a public life. That you might’ve known them in private within that personal and family sense, but there was also this other public self. Perhaps, you stepped into this world now and then, or even belonged in it yourself. Or, perhaps it was a chapter which closed long before you came along and you don’t even know where to begin. Where is the magical red thread to guide you into that other world? The crumbs scattered along the footpath?
Eunice Age 22.
My grandmother Eunice Gardiner was an International concert pianist, music critic and professor of the piano at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Yet, she also had seven children, twelve grandchildren and nine Great Grandchildren, including two of my own. This very same person who played the piano for the Queen and was dubbed “Melba of the Piano”, also knitted little jackets for each of her babies and at least sewed some of their clothes. She made the Sunday roast and was renowned for making custard. She was mother by day, concert pianist by night. She spent a year touring USA and Canada leaving her husband and three children at home. This is an intriguing web. A complex woman who was well before her time.
Mother and Daughter: Ruby & Eunice Gardiner (1940?)
There was also another parallel story…that of Eunice’s mother, my Great grandmother, Ruby Gardiner (McNamara). Ruby left her husband and adult son at home in Sydney to travel to London with Eunice so she could accept her scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Eunice was only 16 at the time and there was no question of her going alone. Her father, Reuben Gardiner Master Mariner with the Adelaide Steamship Company, said: “You might as well throw her to the sharks in Sydney Harbour.” Less than three months after leaving Sydney, Eunice’s father had a massive heart attack and died at sea near Adelaide. So, when Ruby left for London, she never to saw her husband again. In the one letter I have which he wrote to his beloved “Rube”, you could see they were close. They being apart was a necessary sacrifice, not a relief. Ruby was Eunice’s everything and accompanied her everywhere. They were seemingly inseparable. Ruby made pots of tea and helped entertain the press and, as I found out only last week, massaged Eunice’s hands to help keep them supple. It is then also no surprise, that many years later when her mother was in the hospice after a debilitating series of mini strokes, that Eunice would stop by after work at the Conservatorium and feed her mother dinner. Indeed, for many years Gran lived with Eunice and the family in Lindfield.
I’ve written about Eunice before and after years of research, I’m still finding more edge pieces and the picture in the middle is still patchy. Just when I think I’ve found all the missing pieces, something else shows up and the picture hazes over. Indeed, I have to wonder whether she doesn’t want to be found and that really wouldn’t surprise me. I know she’d be horrified to know that all those interviews she gave all those years ago, along with all the photographs and her writings as a music critic, are now available with the touch of a few buttons and a very long time travelling through Google. However, although that might tell me to leave her alone and let her rest in peace, she was and remains a public person. A woman who lived an extraordinary life, which shouldn’t just be pushed to the back of the closet and forgotten. Moreover, on a personal note, her DNA has been shared and passed on. There is also a wider family which also shares these same elements and ingredients. They might not be playing the piano but they’re dancing, writing, painting, drawing or obsessively focused on something. Moreover, Eunice had her musical “family” of brilliantly talented young musicians who speak a language the rest of us will never understand. They’re carrying her legacy forward and when you’re that unique needle in a haystack, I’d imagine it would be helpful to know you’re not alone. That someone else has trod that path and left some writings and recordings along the road. So, in this weird macabre kind of way, my grandmother isn’t dead. She lives on.
Anyway, what precipitated my latest wanderings…
The other night while was actually researching one of my grandmother’s colleagues, cellist Osric Fyfe, I stumbled across a new resource…a magazine called Wireless Weekly. I thought I knew about all the major media articles about my grandmother and to be very honest, thought I hadn’t left a stone unturned. Then, last week, I discovered a two page media feature in the Wireless Weekly dated 11th May, 1940. This was about a month after she’d returned to Sydney after five years in London. She had returned from London a star and there were interviews about her appearances on BBCTV and a movie Black Eyes with Mary Maguire. She was a person of interest. A person of the moment.
What particularly delighted me about the photos in this media spread was that the photographer almost saw her through my lens. Every photographer, amateur or professional, has a tendency towards a different perspective ranging from the big picture wide-angle to the zoomed in or even macro perspective. This feature really focused on her hands. Indeed, you could say that it was a study of Eunice’s hands.
Mother and daughter’s hands…Ruby Gardiner massaging Eunice’s fingers.
My favourite photo zooms right in close, showing Ruby Gardiner massaging her daughter’s hands. I never knew she did this, and I was really touched at a deep personal level to tap into this level of intimacy between them. It was truly special and meant so much to me not just as their grand-daughter and Great Grand-daughter, but also as a mother now myself. It’s also got me thinking about my own daughter who is seriously interested in dancing and recently went into her first pair of pointe shoes. Her feet get very sore and perhaps it is now my turn to massage her feet. Be that silent force beneath her dreams.
I also appreciated a close up picture of her hands at the piano. This is exactly the sort of photo I would take myself zoomed right in focusing on the fingers. Indeed, you can observe every little detail of her fingers and they’re almost perfectly preserved in time yet cold and untouchable at the same time. Even though these are the fingers of a famous and very accomplished pianist and her tools of trade, they’re not quite the same as the hands I knew. The very same hands which squeezed my newborn son’s feet, while she sang Twinkle Twinkle to him.
Our son’s first Christmas with Great Grannie Eunice.
How I wish I could’ve frozen time somewhere further along that path so that she was still here and more than just a photograph. Yes, I know. I’ve incredibly lucky to have all these newspaper resources about my grandmother’s life. Yet, at the same time, having all of that brings her back to life in ways I’d never dreamed and yet she’s still among the dead. She can not smile, laugh or make a cup of tea and when I read all of this, I simply want her back. Back for more than just a cup of tea, but to stay.
My grandmother with my daughter. She was born on Eunice’s birthday 88 years later. I love my grandmother’s smile in this photo. She looks so happy!
I have spent so many, many nights with her on Google and even ten years after she passed, I can still hear her voices as clear as a bell and she always offers me a cup of tea. It could’ve been yesterday or even a few moments ago.
The heart knows no distance!
PS When you look at these photos of my grandmother with these young children, it seems like there was never any choice between career and family and somehow it all seamlessly came together. Photos and retrospectives tend to smooth out life’s rough edges and the bits which don’t quite fit into the narrative. There is no doubt in my mind that playing the piano was her first love and great, lifelong passion. Yet, then she met my grandfather. It was wartime and she found a second flame. Having a great talent and having had people sacrifice and invest in that talent, places an expectation. An expectation which led other female musicians of her day (including Australian Opera Singer Dame Joan Hammond) not to marry. Not to have a family. Eunice chose a different and more complex path, which was often fraught. There were times when these tensions boiled over. Eunice’s mother, Ruby, was a tower of strength, and there was also household help. So, Eunice wasn’t a modern female Atlas, carrying all of this on her shoulders alone. She was just like the rest of us. Only human.