My #1 role model — Mum

12 12 2021

My mum has her 90th birthday around Christmas, so we had a family get together this weekend so we could celebrate this milestone without the madness of Christmas commitments getting in the way. Dad (91) asked me and my niece to say a few words. I knew my niece would talk about Mum in her roles as mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, but Mum’s influence on me was different. Here’s what I said (some identifying info has been removed/changed).

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Others will talk today about Mum as the best mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. But I’m going to take a different tack and focus on how she influenced me.

I always knew Mum was pretty special just because she’s my Mum, but I only recently found out some more things about her life, before Dad and us. Mum gave me her old high school yearbook, and I found out she’d been a sports house captain in Year 12 and an outstanding netball player. I already knew that she was a bit of a pioneer because not only did she go on to Year 12 when it was very unusual for women to do so, but also to teachers college. In those days, maybe 10% of ALL 14-year-olds went on to tertiary education, and very few of those were women. This was the late 1940s and the [Australian] government was bending all the rules to get returned WW2 servicemen back into the workforce, so for her to get a place at teachers college wouldn’t have been easy. But the [state] government wasn’t so friendly as to let her keep teaching, and she was sacked at the end of 1953. Why? Because she got married! It was Education Department policy that as soon as a female teacher married, they lost their job!!! Not the men… just the women. I think the moment I found out about this, I became a feminist, so I have Mum to thank for that.

Mum has been the best role model a girl could have. She didn’t just say we could do or be anything we wanted—she showed us by her actions. At a time when most women were forced to abandon any thought of a career and live out their lives doing unpaid housework and child rearing, Mum was running businesses with Dad and, for a while, his parents. In [town], she was front of house in the bakery, she looked after the accounts, and she learnt cake decorating. With Nana B she decorated countless wedding cakes, dipped hundreds of thousands of lamingtons, and filled countless cream puffs (those Italians in [town] had BIG weddings!) Did I also mention she ran the house, did all the cooking (most on a wood stove) and laundry (by hand, in a copper also heated by wood fire, until she got a washing machine), and reared 2 children? And that she likely didn’t get a salary?

When they were in their mid-late 30s, she and Dad upped stumps and moved to [larger town] to start a new completely different venture in the [name] shopping centre—a newsagency that wasn’t allowed to sell newspapers! After 7 years, they had one of the biggest newsagencies in [the state], based on turnover. And after many years of fighting bureaucracy and local newsagents, they finally got the OK to sell newspapers. Again, Mum quietly ran the business and money side of it all (buying stock, doing all the accounts, dealing with the reps), as well as being behind the counter with Dad. Later came [another town] and [a caravan park], which they ran for 8 years, turning it from a run-down caravan park into a thriving business. Again, Mum ran the business side of things, from bookings (often getting a phone call after 10pm when someone decided that they needed to book right now for the Christmas holidays) through to everything to do with the accounts. In all of this, there were no computers, just an adding machine, ledgers and booking books, and pens, pencils, and erasers, lots of erasers as bookings got changed around and vans and campsites got shifted around on paper—everything was done by hand and it all took a lot of time and nous to juggle it all.

After they retired, Mum and Dad were very involved in volunteer groups. Mum continued to look after their finances, and she still does. She was born in the Depression and lived her early years in what we would now term extreme poverty on a farm in the middle of nowhere at the back of [town in the wheatbelt]. Her South African parents had migrated just a few years before, and Nana P (her Mum) spoke almost no English when she arrived. From Mum’s experience growing up in the Depression years came a deep-seated belief in never wasting money—if you couldn’t afford it, you couldn’t have it. Speaking of frugal, in the early days after the [Australian] $50 note was released in 1973, it was very rare to see one, possibly because Mum stashed every one that she found in the businesses into a sanitary napkin box under the bathroom sink! There were no point-of-sale machines then to track what money came in and went out! She did the same with the early 50c coins, which were predominantly silver until the government realised they cost way more to produce than their face value—she had a stash of those too! I told you she was my role model!

Because of Mum’s business acumen and astuteness with money, their retirement years (until COVID hit) have been filled with travel all over the world and they’ve never wanted for anything. Despite paying untold taxes all their lives, they’ve never received a pension or government concession card. And Mum still watches the pennies, sniffing out things on sale.

Through all of this, Mum and Dad have stood together like a rock. I’m sure they had their ups and downs, but as kids, we never got to see that (except one time with the lemon meringue pie! [and no, I won’t elaborate]). They were a united front in everything and a formidable force as a couple. They love each other deeply, and have loved all their family as deeply, and they’ve been very proud of us all.

So, Mum, you’ve been the best role model a girl could have—you’ve walked the walk, not just talked the talk, and I’m very very proud when people say ‘you’re just like your Mum’, because while, for them, I may look like you, in my heart I know that it’s much more than that.

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More information on coppers and other laundry paraphernalia, most of which I remember from my childhood in rural Australia (by the time I went to university, washing machines were common, typically a Twin Tub):

The wood stove Mum cooked on was a Metters No 2: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-22/the-enduring-charm-of-metters-wood-fired-stoves/8117478

[Links last checked December 2021]


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