|My Mother aged 18 years|
|My Nana...aged 18 years and below, me at 18 years|
|La Boite Theatre in the Round|
When I was a little girl with pigtails and a few freckles scattered across my nose I loved watching my mother adeptly apply her make-up as she readied to go to work, or when she was just off “down town” to do the shopping. The drawers of her duchess contained a multitude of lipsticks, powder, powder compacts, foundation, creams, lotions, eye-brow pencils, mascara, nail polish and every other accompaniment necessary.
To a little girl, my mother’s duchess was an “Alice in Wonderland” world of wonders; as was a varnished box, about 18-inches square in size that sat on a shelf in her wardrobe. I loved rummaging through that box filled with her costume jewellery. Doing so was a magical mystery tour; one which I never tired of exploring.
In years gone by, the box had been a medicine box. A red cross on one of its sides gave hint to its original purpose. The lid at the top slid open. I remember it well.
I think during the war years - World War 11 - the box, filled with medial supplies, was probably kept in their backyard air raid shelter at the home in Elphinstone Street, North Rockhampton.
It was the home my mother was raised in, and where my older brother and I lived briefly after we were born, before Mum, Nana, Graham and I went off to live at Slade Point, via Mackay for a couple of years. From there we moved to Gympie when I was three years old.
Our mother’s father, our grandfather - who passed away before I was born - was a local air-raid warden. Their neighbours shared the shelter when the sirens screamed through the air, warning of pending danger.
The term “Down town” was always used when going shopping in Gympie’s main street, Mary Street. Mary Street was literally down in a valley. And to get there from all angles, the townsfolk had to walk “down” to get to town.
In those days of the Fifties and Sixties, the days of my childhood and teen years, there were no shopping centres dotted around in various other areas of the town as there are today.
Corner stores were...yes...on corners...and some others were not on corners... but if one wanted to do a “major” shop, then “down town” into Mary Street they went. And, to do so, everyone back in those days “dressed” for the occasion.
Mum never entered the public domain not prepared to set her high-heeled-clad feet in said domain. Neither did our Nana, but Mum, in particular, was the “star dresser”.
My mother took pride in her appearance, but she wasn’t vain.
Mum, a tall, slim, very attractive woman, had a “good figure”, as was the term used back then. She walked with grace and dignity.
Her obvious grace was no doubt honed by her dance classes, both ballet and tap, which she diligently attended throughout her childhood and teenage years.
Before marrying, and henceforth introducing my now late brother and me into this muddled-up world, Mum worked in “Kirbys”, which was, in those days, a large, family-owned department store in Rockhampton.
Our mother was born in Gympie, but, as I mentioned previously, was raised in Rockhampton. She was around 18 months old when the family left Gympie to reside in Rockhampton. Her younger brother, our uncle Dudley, was born in Rockhampton.
My grandfather was a butcher
Both my brother and I were born in the central Queensland city. “Rocky”, Queensland fourth largest regional city, is known not only as the “Beef Capital of Australia”, but it’s also well-known for being situated on, or fractionally north of, the Tropic of Capricorn.
Kirby’s department store, among other things, was dedicated to fashion. Their in-house fashion parades were very popular with their loyal customers. Over the years she was in their employ, my mother was Kirby’s in-house mannequin (not one that stood, transfixed in the shop window display, not blinking an eye), but a red-bloodied, red-haired, strutting/gliding, stylish, real live human one.
In those days of yore, “mannequin” was the more familiar word used; the word “model” not so much, if at all.
As well as showing off the new season’s dresses, blouses and skirts, Mum was also the store’s underwear and swimwear model. On a wall I have a lovely framed photo of my mother modelling a two-piece bathing suit. The photo-shoot was many years before bikinis hit our beaches and catwalks. Mum, aged 18 or 19 years at the time, was one of the first, if not the first, to model a two-piece swimsuit in a Queensland fashion parade.
Further on down the track, during my childhood, Mum modelled for various Gympie dress salons when they held parades to show off new fashions for the up-coming season.
My mother styled her shoulder-length, rich auburn hair with the finesse of a trained hairstylist. Not only did she make her own clothes, but she also made mine. Our Singer treadle sewing machine was rarely idle. Mum was handy with knitting needles, as well. Nana sewed, too; and Nana was a dab hand with a crochet hook.
Our father never played a role in my older brother’s life, except very briefly when
Graham was still a little boy. Our father was never part of my life.
Graham was still a little boy. Our father was never part of my life.
He, our father and our mother separated when she was pregnant with me. Graham was three months short of turning three years of age when I was born. Our parents later divorced.
My brother and I were born during the war years...the Second World War. Life everywhere, of course, had been turned upside down, not only here Down Under.
From the moment they went their separate ways, our father had nothing to do with us.
However, throughout our childhood and beyond, both our mother and our grandmother never said a bad word against our father.
While raising my brother and me, with the help of her mother, our Nana, the four of us lived together. The Famous Four against the world – Nana, Mum, Graham and me.
Mum worked hard to feed, clothe and keep a roof over our heads. She was never out of a job. She was a barmaid throughout our childhood; and a damned good one, too. Along with performing that role, for a few years during the winter months, Mum rose at the crack of dawn, or before, to go with a band of others to farming areas surrounding Gympie to do the back-breaking, finger-chilling job of bean-picking. Frost-bite was never factor to be considered.
We lived and were raised in a humble, rented two bedroom flat. Graham’s “bedroom” as such, was the little enclosed “front” verandah. I shared a small bedroom with Nana, while the main bedroom was our mother’s.
Later on, a year or so after my brother commenced working, he rented the middle flat (there were three flats in the building). Our coffers had increased...so, we expanded! We’d taken over two flats of the three! There was no stopping us!
For a number of years, during our school hours, Nana cleaned the houses of others. Also, for a time she was a cleaner, in the mornings, at Gympie’s Empire Hotel.
Both women never shirked from work, nor did they ever avoid their responsibilities...Graham and me.
Both women never lost their sense of humour, nor did they lose sight of life’s good values.
My mother passed away in 1974. Nana passed away two years later in 1976.
It’s a long time since I’ve physically wished them “Happy Mother’s Day”.
Not a day goes by I don’t think of them; not a day goes by I don’t miss them. I miss Mum’s fieriness. She was a true redhead through and through.
I believe the reason she was an expert angler was she, too, always took the bait. My brother and I loved to “stir” our mother. Mum never failed to bite. Scolding us for our teasing, the glint in her eyes was evidence of the amusement she tried to disguise.
I miss my mother’s wicked sense of humour. I miss Nana’s calmness; her strength of being.
My recall of the Tuesday evening Mum and I went together to see the movie “Imitation of Life”, which starred Lana Turner, Sandra Dee, John Gavin and Susan Kohner has remained a vivid memory. At the time – 1959 - I was still attending high school. Inconsolable, I howled all the way home from the picture theatre. I’m pretty sure Mum decided there and then she’d henceforth accompany me to comedies only.
In the late Sixties, Mum and Nana left Gympie to live in Slade Point, via Mackay to be closer to my brother and his expanding young family. I was living in Brisbane. Separately, they’d visit me for brief holidays of two to four weeks.
The last time Mum stayed with me in Brisbane was early in 1974. Nana remained in Slade Point. My mother stayed on and on. Nana and I thought she was never going to go home. I wasn’t bothered by her lengthy, extended visit that seemingly had no end in sight. Actually, we three, Nana, Mum and I laughed about it. Mum passed away, unexpectedly, in August of 1974...perhaps she knew or sensed something we didn’t.
During one of Mum’s visits in the early Seventies she and I went to a matinee at the newly-opened La Boite Theatre in Kelvin Grove, a Brisbane suburb, to enjoy its live production of “Macbeth”. An afternoon of Shakespeare started us off quoting the Bard to each other for the next couple of days - " misquoted" is probably closer to the mark!
And then there was an afternoon, I’ll never forget. At the end of my working day, Mum and I had agreed to meet in the “Ladies’ Lounge” at the Carlton Hotel in Queen Street, Brisbane for a couple of afternoon cocktails.
Mum was dressed in a new, very stylish pantsuit I’d given her as a gift. It was the first time she’d worn it. The pantsuit was a beautiful, rich green, a colour that suited my mother with her natural red hair. The pantsuit was a Carla Zampatti design.
(In 1971/72 the national fashion company for whom I worked contracted Zampatti to design a range of women’s clothing. She visited our showrooms and offices in Brisbane around that time, by invitation, for the launch of the new range. At the time, it was her first ever visit to Brisbane. By that stage I'd added the catering feather to my "cloak of many colours" , or to my "cap of multi-tasks" in my position with the company. I catered for the function/fashion parade we hosted that evening, and was thrilled to meet Carla, and to have her eat the food I'd prepared. She was stunning-looking, very pleasant woman
Italian-born Carla Zampatti (Carla moved to Australia with her family when she was 8 years old), is one of Australia’s most influential fashion designers).
The waitress who served our drinks at The Carlton asked Mum and me to leave because my mother was wearing a pantsuit!
Way back when...in the 30s and 40s, Marlene Dietrich and Kathryn Hepburn tossed convention aside, and scandalised the conservative dressers in the meantime, but despite the public’s disapproval of androgynous women, they snubbed their noses at them, and more power and admiration to them for doing so.
In the early Seventies, in Brisbane, and elsewhere, some still turned their nose up at women wearing pantsuits or classy slacks in public. (Including the young bar girl at Brisbane’s rather snobby, Carlton Hotel who took exception at a well-groomed woman who dared to sit in the illustrious Ladies' Lounge dressed in a pantsuit)!
Politely pointing out my mother and I were enjoying a quiet drink, disturbing no one, I refused her request. I also passed comment on how well-dressed my mother was.
If the lass had been capable of reading through the lines she would've picked up my subtle nuances that both Mum and I were dressed better than she was! However, I kept my tone and response courteous. More flies are caught with honey, than with vinegar.
At our leisure – very leisurely - we finished our drinks, after which we left for greener, more welcoming pastures. We moseyed on to the then legendary National Hotel where we were greeted by the equally legendary, flamboyant barman, Warren, the host of the popular, well-patronised cocktail bar named in his honour – “Warren’s Bar”.
Mum and I had many fun times together, as did Nana and I.
From the moment I left home to live in Brisbane - at the age of 20 years, in late July, 1965 – not a week went by I didn’t write and post a lengthy letter to Mum and Nana...hand-written letters. There were occasions I wrote to Mum and Nana twice a week, depending of the amount of “news” I had to relate. They responded in kind.
Mum and Nana remain secure in my heart. Both were guiding lights who taught me wrong from right.
Mum’s Breakfast Strata: Chop 300g spinach. Cook 1-1/2c finely chopped onion, salt, pepper and 1/4tsp nutmeg over mod-heat, 4-5mins; add spinach; remove from heat. In buttered shallow, ceramic baking dish spread 2c 1-inch cubes of Italian or
French bread; top with 1/3rd spinach mixture. Sprinkle with 3/4c coarsely grated Gruyère and Swiss cheeses (or cheddar); repeat layering twice, ending with cheeses. Whisk together 2-3/4c milk (or half milk/half cream), 12 large eggs, 2tbs Dijon; season; pour over strata. Chill overnight. Let stand 30mins; bake in 175C oven, 45-55mins. Stand 15mins before serving.
Breakfast Cups: Lightly spray 6 cup muffin tin. Roll out 6 slices of bread of choice until thin. Cut out a 4-5 inch circle from corner of each piece. Save scraps to fill holes in the toast cups. Cut circles in half; lightly butter each piece. Place small scraps of bread in tin to cover 2/3rd of base; place 2 circle bread halves into each cup. Load in spinach, 1 tomato slice, grated cheese, chopped, cooked bacon; crack 1 egg on top; season. Bake in 190C oven, 15mins.
Semolina Pancakes with Cardamom Rhubarb & Red Grapes: Combine 1 cup golden caster sugar, juice and peel of 1 mandarin, 4 crushed cardamom pods, seeds of 1 vanilla bean or 1tsp vanilla paste and 1-1/2c water in saucepan over med-heat; stir until sugar dissolves; bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer 10mins; remove peel and cardamom; add 1 bunch rhubarb cut into 5cm pieces; cook 2mins; remove from heat; stand 10mins; add 100g halved red grapes. Combine 200g semolina, ½ plain flour, 10g dried yeast and 1tsp ground ginger. Whisk together 1 egg, 1 yolk, 150ml milk,, 1/4c honey and 200ml hot water. Add to dry ingredients, beat for 5mins. Stand for 30mins. Make pancakes. Serve brushed with butter, topped with fruit; with Crème fraîche and honey served separately.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!