Never being one to join clubs, groups and the like, I surprised myself by joining the Liberal Party, the North Toowong branch. I was fed up with the government in power at the time, headed by Labor’s Gough Whitlam. Instead of sitting around the dinner table, table-thumping and complaining, I decided to do something concrete. After twenty-three years conservative rule under the Liberal Party, Labor won the Federal election with Gough Whitlam at the helm. “Time For A Change” was their catch-phrase. On 5th December 1972, Whitlam became Australia’s twenty-first prime minister. Once in office he immediately implemented reforms. It was under his rule, that four weeks’ annual leave came into being, together with the 17-1/2% loading on employees’ holiday pays. I believe then, as I do now, if an employer can do without an employee for four weeks, the employer can do without the employee, period! The Labor Government was spending money like it was rapidly going out of fashion. A record number of Bills were introduced and a record number were enacted. But, the Senatealso rejected ninety-three Bills, more than the total number rejected during the previous seventy-one years of parliament.
Over-inflated egos, particularly those between Whitlam and his Attorney-General Lionel Murphy, as well as other ministers, exacerbated the government’s difficulties. It all came to a head with the crisis of the ‘Loans Affair’. In 1974-75 the government considered by-passing the Loans Council to raise US$4 billion in foreign loans. Although the plan was abandoned, Minister Rex Connor continued secret negotiations through an international broker, and the then treasurer, Jim Cairns, misled parliament over the affair. Whitlam sacked both ministers but the “Loans Affair” enabled the Liberal Party leader, Malcolm Fraser to justify refusing to pass the budget Bills in the Senate, which would force the government to an election. The government fortunes were in decline. Anyway, I was dissatisfied with the status quo and decided to become “political”.
Upon joining the North Toowong branch, sitting in the sidelines listening and learning, was where I intended to stay, but I was quickly drawn out of my corner to be elected secretary to the chairman/president of the branch, Denver Beanland, who, a few years later became Queensland’s State Attorney General. Denver was a character and we worked together well. He and I canvassed the whole of the Toowong/Torwood/Auchenflower/Milton area one weekend, door-knocking spreading “the word”. Guest speakers at our meetings included Dr. Llew Edwards, John Moore, the Federal member for “Ryan” who later became Australia’s Minister for Defence, Kathy Martin, (became Liberal Party Senator in the Australian Senate in 1974-1984). She was also a member of the North Toowong branch) and Col Lamont, who was also a member of the branch at that time, amongst others guest speakers.
Colin Lamont was an early campaigner for tighter powers for police in domestic situations. Having spent a lifetime active in diverse areas of agenda setting and public policy he is currently completing his Ph.D. in Politics and Public Policy. Colin Lamont left Australia to study at London University, was recruited by the then British Colonial Officer and trained and worked as a Detective Inspector in the Royal Hong Kong Police before being seconded to British Intelligence, Far East. He returned to Australia and did a stint in Parliament as a Member of the Legislative Assembly, and then became a professional political lobbyist. He has also owned his own newspaper and has written several books on history. He is now retired and living on the Gold Coast.
I upset John Moore’s rather pompous demeanour the night of his “guest appearance”. He held a blue-ribbon seat and he definitely still wore his “old school tie” of his private schooling days. His then wife (they divorced years later) said, “Good on you! It’s time someone threw questions at him!” Me and my big mouth at play again! My suggestion to Moore was why all the electioneering was conducted just in the lead-up to elections. It was my belief that elected members of parliament should be out and about all the time, explaining their policies to the “people”, not just prior to elections, offering false promises in exchange for votes. He threw the ball back in my court by saying, “Why don’t you do something about it, then?”
Not to be beaten by the self-righteous John Moore, I replied, “Okay…I shall. I’ll start the ball rolling by inviting the tenants in my apartment block to my apartment for a night of friendly discussion. It doesn’t matter if they are Liberals or not. I just hope others will follow my suit!”
Prepared to put my words into action, I set aside a Wednesday evening, cooked up a huge pot of Bolognese sauce, supplied flagons of wine, spaghetti and garlic bread, invited Kathy Martin to come along as my special guest to explain to the “un-informed” the policies and agenda of the Liberal Party and extended invitations to my tenants to come along for a fun evening of political discussion. And a great evening we had, too, but unfortunately, it was the one and only of such events. No one else bothered to carry the banner further.
Denver Beanland and I were invited to be delegates at the Liberal Party National Convention that was held in Brisbane that year. The then Liberal Opposition Leader, Bill Snedden was in attendance. The following link explains a lot of what was happening at that time. And there surely was a lot happening!
These were interesting times, politically and I was glad I’d joined the Liberal Party branch. I learned a lot and became involved in many things. I handed out voting pamphlets on Election Day, thoroughly enjoying interacting with the voters. Where others did two-hourly stints or similar, I remember I did the whole day from 8am until closing time of the polls. I’ve always hated to “miss out”! It was fun.
Out of the blue one Friday, I received a telephone call from Nana in Mackay. My mother had been taken to hospital. On the Saturday, I caught a flight en route to Mackay. Catching a cab to Slade Point, I quickly deposited my luggage asking the taxi driver to wait for me to return with Nana. He then drove us both to the hospital. Upon arriving at my mother’s bedside, I turned on my heel and demanded of the nurse in charge that it wasn’t my mother laying there in the bed.
Earlier in the year, Mum had come to stay with me. Originally, her visit was to be three weeks’ duration, but she stayed on and on. At one stage, when speaking with Nana on the phone I half-jokingly said, “I don’t think Mum is ever leaving!” Nana had laughed in reply, “I’ve had the same feeling!” Instead of the planned three weeks, it was nigh on three months before my mother returned home to Slade Point.
In front of me, in the hospital bed that Saturday, was someone I didn’t recognize. I had to leave her bedside to enable me to compose myself. I walked out onto the front verandah of the Mackay Base Hospital and broke into sobs. I didn’t want my mother to see me upset, nor Nana, for that matter. Her daughter, my mother, had never really “left home”. Nana had stood by her through thick and thin and two failed marriages. Nana was, in truth, the head of the household. She helped raise my brother and me when our mother had to go out to work. And now, she was standing by her daughter’s bedside, confused by what was unfolding around her.
When we arrived back at their home, later that afternoon, I sat Nana down in the lounge room. Facts had to be faced and faced there and then.
Taking her hand, I looked in her large blue eyes that looked so much larger that day. Solemnly, I said, “Nana…you have to face the fact now, your daughter, my mother will not be coming home from the hospital. It’s better you face this reality now…not live in false hope. Mum will not be coming home.” This very hard for me to say, but I knew I had to say it.
Nana looked at me, her blue eyes misting over, her lips trembled. “Do you think so, love?”
“Yes, Nana,” I answered quietly.
“I…I think you’re right, love,” she said. “I’ve thought the same but I’ve not said anything to Graham (my older brother). He thinks she will be fine.”
“She won’t be, Nana. I’ll have a quiet talk with him when I see him later. Leave it to me. He has to realize what is going on here.”
I don’t know where or how I got the strength, but I knew I had to be strong for Nana, in particular. It was her daughter laying in that hospital bed and they had never been apart, except briefly.
My brother wouldn’t listen to me. He refused to accept the truth. I told him to ring our mother’s younger and only brother, Dudley and tell him to fly up to Mackay immediately because our mother would not last the week. I rang John Trimmer back in Brisbane informing him of the situation. On the Tuesday, both John and our uncle, Dudley arrived in town. Dudley, like Graham, my brother believed everything would be “all right”. John booked into a hotel in Mackay, hired a car and both he and the car were there at my disposal. He was a wonderful support during such a harrowing time. It was good for me to have someone there upon whom I could rely. I talked with him, opened up my heart and feelings to what was occurring around me, telling him how I felt, feelings I held hidden from Nana, Graham and Dudley. Graham and Dudley still refused to face the truth. On Thursday morning Dudley and I visited Mum. She looked beautiful, with not a mark on her face. Her skin was as smooth as a baby’s skin. Dudley couldn’t contain his excitement.
“See.!” He exclaimed. “She’s going to be fine!”
“No, Dudley,” I told him. “That is the look of death. Mum won’t see this day out.” He refused to believe me. Before leaving my mother’s side, I bent my head close to hers and repeated firmly, “I love you.” I couldn’t remember the last time I had uttered those words to her.
In the cab back to Nana’s, I made him promise me that he wouldn’t say anything to her about the way Mum looked. He kept his promise. I spent the afternoon with Nana, preparing dinner and talking in general about nothing in particular. At 5.45pm, her neighbour rushed in. I raced next door and took the telephone call. My mother, Nana’s daughter, Elma had passed away.
Not wanting any fuss or ceremony, together Graham and I went to the funeral parlour on Friday. Dudley came along, too. John waited outside in the hired car. Beside the funeral parlour was a small chapel. It was mutually decided that we would hold a small service there. When talking with the minister I asked him not to make a”speech” about what a “wonderful person Elma had been etc., etc.” because he had not known her. I didn’t want a total stranger saying things about my mother, a person he had never met or known. To me that would have been insincere and hypocritical. I knew my mother. I knew her good points and her bad. She wasn’t perfect. None of us are. She was my mother. The minister started to protest, but I shook my head, instructing him that all we wanted was for him to recite the Twenty-Third Psalm. He acquiesced. It was not debatable. The service and burial were arranged for the following morning, Saturday. Graham and Dudley wanted to view Mum’s body. I didn’t, but I also didn’t want them to go in without me. I didn’t know how they would handle the situation. I don’t know what it meant, but I felt nothing standing there looking at the body. I told Graham and Dudley, who were overcome with grief, “This is not your mother…it’s not your sister laying there. Elma has gone….her spirit has left.” And with that, we left.
Upon arriving back to Nana, I took hold of the reins telling her I didn’t think it was a good idea for her to attend the funeral. I suggested to Dudley that he stay at home with Nana, that Graham and I would handle everything. To others this may sound strange and, perhaps wrong, but it wasn’t a thoughtless decision. I’d thought long and hard about it. I knew it would be just too much for Nana to go through. Maybe I was being selfish, but I didn’t want Nana to witness her daughter’s body being lowered into a cold, heartless grave. Without much discussion or protest they agreed with my decision.
Graham collected me in the morning. John arrived in his little, hired, bright red Chrysler Galant. No one else other than Graham, his wife, Lyn, John, Trevor, an old friend from our Gympie days, who I’d first met when he came to Gympie as a radio announcer and who had shared flats with “R”, Mum’s immediate neighbours from Slade Point and me were in attendance. It was just how it should have been.
However, there is always a funny side to every situation, no matter how grim. The hearse left the chapel, with Graham and me in close pursuit. We managed to reach the Forgen Street Bridge crossing the Pioneer River, linking North and East Mackay and the CBD, before the green light turned to red, as did the rest of the small, intimate entourage, except, that is, for John! Poor John! It couldn’t have happened to a nicer fellow.
As we drove along Harbour Road en route to the Mackay Garden Cemetery, in the rear vision mirror, I could see in the far distance a small blur of red. It was John, vainly breaking all speed limits trying to catch us up! He was unfamiliar with the directions and areas in Mackay. I knew what would be going through his head, his panic clearly evident in his driving. Of course, I got the giggles. Graham looked at me as if I was having some kind of fit, until I pointed out to him the drama that was unfolding behind us. He, too, saw the funny side.
We arrived back somberly after the funeral, where Nana and Dudley greeted us. It was then I knew I had made the right decision by not wanting her to attend Mum’s funeral. We all sat around, talking quietly amongst each other. Nana had prepared a light lunch. Later in the afternoon, I spoke with Graham out in the yard. At that time he was a member of a local fishing club that had a fishing event the next day, Sunday. I could see the pain he was feeling. I was feeling my own pain, too, but as I had done all week, I kept it hidden. I suggested he should not miss the fishing trip that it would be good for him to get out in the fresh, open air. It would help him get his mind into order. For once in his life he listened to his little sister and agreed to do so.
After Graham and John left and Dudley went to bed, deciding to have an early night, I sat on the end of Nana’s bed. She and I sipped on brandy until sun-up. We talked and talked. She told me stories about my mother when she was but a child, stories, I’d not heard before. It was so wonderful. It was a healing for me, but most importantly for Nana. I had never felt so close to her as I did that night. We spoke together as peers, both on the same level, in total honesty.
Sunday arrived. A little blurry-eyed, but for some strange reason also feeling refreshed, Nana and I were ready to face a new day. Dudley was totally unaware of our “all-night girls’ night”. Graham arrived early for a brief visit before going off with the fishing club for the day. John arrived soon thereafter bearing a couple of bottles of scotch and some beer. Somewhere along the way, I’d managed to pick up a piece of silverside from the butcher, deciding that would be a good Sunday lunch. After doing the necessary preparations of the silverside, I sat at the piano. The piano had been given to my grandmother and grandfather as a wedding present from an aunt on my grandfather’s side. My mother had learned to play on it and for five years, so had I. It was an iron-framed German-made “Irving”. It had many stories hidden away in its ebony and ivory.
My mother had been a brilliant pianist, expertly playing anything from classical to jazz, to rock, ballads and all in between. At times she played in a dance band when we were younger. As children growing up, my brother and I were witnesses to many evenings filled with “sing-alongs” around the piano. Hardly a day went by without our mother playing the piano. It was a part of our lives. Beside the piano was a cabinet full of sheet music.
In respect of Mum and in full knowledge of my lack of ability as a pianist, I didn’t play the piano that day, but I did bring out the sheet music, placing it in front of me. Spontaneously, without warning or intention, a sing-song erupted. Nana, Dudley, John and me sang everything from Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust”, my mother’s all-time favourite song, to “Walking My Baby Back Home”, “Ain’t Misbehavin’, “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and so many, many other songs, reminiscent of days gone by. Looking at Nana’s face and her eyes that glistened, I knew what was happening was right.
Around 3-3.30pm a tentative, quiet knocking sounded at the front door. There upon the doorstep stood a neighbour from across the way, a timid, little elderly woman bearing a basket full of goodies. She looked upon the sight before her, with a slightly confused look upon her face. Our “concert” was interrupted briefly as Nana invited her in, thanking her very much for her goodwill gesture. Small talk lasted only a couple of minutes before she hurriedly made her escape. She must have thought us to be a wicked, irreverent lot! We all fell about in laughter after she left.
At 5pm, with the concert still in high gear and the drinks still flowing, Graham arrived back from his fishing trip. At the precise moment he arrived, Dudley and I were attempting our rendition of a tap dance to “Walking My Baby Back Home” in the backyard under the Hill’s Clothes Hoist! I will always remember the look upon his face. He had no idea what he had walked into!
We had had a fitting wake for Mum.
John and I flew back together to Brisbane the following Tuesday. It wasn't until the plane soared high in the limitless sky above, turned over the ocean to face south, that my world and I fell apart. Everything I had held inside, hidden away in front of Nana, Graham and Dudley came to the forefront and descended heavily upon me without warning or apology. John was my stalwart. I don’t know what I would have done without him during and after that time.
To be continued...