Tuesday, November 23, 2004

May as well finish the book/grandmother tale

I don't know much about her origins except she came from Tasmania where her family had extensive land and she had an Italian family name. A house in the developing suburb of South Oakleigh where my grandfather lived was not to her taste so my grandfather rented a house just off Prospect Hill Road complete with croquet lawn for many years. Lorne Grove comes to mind.

She was an accomplished musician and taught music at a uni, and although I don't know which one, it was probably Melbourne Uni. Many of her students found her good company and she was invited to very 'bohemian' parties. The lifesyle must have appealed as she subsequently ran away with a seventeen year old student, leaving her husband and four sons, the eldest being my father, to fend for themselves. She married the student and they lived together in Balmain overlooking the docks until she died at a reasonably old age.

As each of her sons turned 21, she wrote to them, half explaining her life, half asking for forgiveness and understanding and leaving any future contact up to them. They all did, to a greater or lesser degree and my father, through my mother, as the oldest probably had the most to do with her. One Uncle used to refer to her as the Donelly St (Balmain) woman.They did visit us at our farm in Gippsland a couple of times. Not sure how they got baby Fiat over the mountains, but they managed. It was good to meet her at least. After being impressed by the tv show Love in Cold Climate, and later the book, we kids have for a long time referred to her as 'the bolter'.

My grandfather subsequently shied away from educated women, and married, a woman who used to always have the smell of beer on her breath and a Craven A in the corner of her mouth. They too visited us at our farm and it was always interesting for us kids to get up in the morning to see if nanna had made it to bed or passed out on the kitchen floor. No matter, she and my grandfather got on very well for the rest of their lives. Can't say the same for her and my mother who used to fight terribly. She thought my mother was uppity because she came from a church going wowser family who lots of land in the Clayton/Oakleigh/Bentleigh/Springvale area. My mother detested the way she smoked and drank so brazenly. My mother both drank and smoked too, but not openly.

The connection to my cleaning up the book shelves? Well, I came across, as mentioned a post or so ago, Wind in the Willows and Sydney nanna had always sent us kids a book for our birthdays. One was Wind in Willows, another, The Magic Pudding, another Piccaniny Walkabout, another Our Sunburnt Country. With the exception of Wind in the Willows, I think they were always books by significant Australian authors. I now appreciate what she was trying to do and if that was an appreciation for Australian literature, then it probably worked.

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