It’s been a bit of a crazy time here in Bootville lately. My poor old Grandad has had quite the year, suffering a heart attack in January then a stroke in April. There have been many trips to Brisbane, quite a bit of extended family angst, and many big changes. Through it all, my lovely Mum has dedicated more than 20 weeks out of the last 26 to caring for Nanny and Grandad – something she does with inspiring patience and love. She has lived with them – first Nanny and Grandad, whilst Grandad recovered from his heart attack; then with Nanny, whilst Grandad spent many long weeks in rehab following his stroke.
Every day she helped Nanny up, prepared her breakfast, helped her dress, did the chores, arrived at the hospital just before lunch so she could chat with Grandad’s therapists and physicians, help Grandad with his lunch, back home to Nanny, make Nanny’s lunch, do the laundry (always lots when someone’s in hospital), do any shoppings, sometimes take Nanny on little outings, start supper preparations, back up to the hospital, help Grandad with supper, settle him cosy in bed for the night, back home to Nanny, share supper, support Nanny and listen into the wee hours of the morning, as Nanny navigated this strange and unsettling new time in her life, send off the daily family update to our aunts and uncles and cousins who are scattered across the world, then to bed, always with an ear cocked to make sure Nanny was okay and didn’t need help.
In amongst this, new living arrangements had to be sorted for Nanny and Grandad, and the awkward and sad process of packing up Nanny and Grandad’s home began. I’m in awe of my Mum and the grace and the strength with which she navigated these tricky waters. Nanny and Grandad are now safe and comfortable in their new home. But wow, there has been a significant toll on the extended family and I doubt things will ever return to the way they were. At many times, I found myself grinding my teeth as I contemplated the strange and fraught family relationships that have emerged.
But this period has also seen a strengthening of the closeness between Mum and her lovely sisters Mary, Cate and Jackie. Their love and the passion with which they advocated for their mum and dad was often the one light of many difficult weeks. As I write, Mum, Mary and Cate are there in Brisbane – they’ve packed the last boxes of Nanny and Grandad’s precious treasures and pieces of Nanny and Grandad’s furniture are being shared amongst the siblings – visiting with Nanny and Grandad, taking them on wee adventures, making peace with this new phase of their old and frail parents’ lives.
I know I’m so very very priviliged to be a 44 year old who still has her Nanny and Grandad and I’m incredibly grateful for the wonderful times we have shared with them – many, many happy, funny, silly, creative, adventurous and beautiful memories. But there’s still a little bit of me that feels a sense of loss. The family home – that has been recreated wherever Nanny and Grandad have lived (they were irrepressible adventurers) – is now no more. The familiar and comfy velvet armchairs and sofa with the old standard lamp softly glowing – lighting the stitches of countless knitted jumpers and crocheted rugs. The long heavy dining table with all the chairs – so as to squash in as many children and grandchildren for Nanny’s feasts of pumpkin soup, roasts and sponge cake, as possible. The elegant dresser, its glass doors illuminating Nanny’s treasured Lottie collection. The twin beds with their electric blankets – oh my, how Janie and I loved these as little girls, arriving on cold dark nights after the long drive south. Nanny’s fabulous sewing table and her trusty Bernina. Grandad’s hall stand with his Akubra hat and walking stick. His outdoor cupboards stuffed full of all the handy little things he MIGHT one day need. The old fashioned kerosene lamps he used to light each night on the back porch so he and Nanny could sip their evening drink whilst looking out at their garden. All of these will colour my stories and memories for many more years to come – but we will never gather there again as a family, with that wonderfully comfortable sense of familiarity and belonging.
In amongst all of this, Mum came down to Melbourne to help Abby and I prepare for Abby’s debut. Yes! The Debutantes’ Ball is alive and well here in our corner of Melbourne :-) Abby needed a long white ball gown with elbow length gloves. It was such a blast! And part of these preparations involved MAKING the dress for which we needed Mum’s overlocker – which was at home in Merimbula. So, two weekends before the ball, Mum and I hopped in the car and set off for home. The first time she’d been home in over two months. We took our time – soaked up as much sun as we could, marvelled at the ocean’s beauty, visited with sweet neighbours and of course, headed up to Tilba for cheese … and a little, late afternoon adventure to a new for us spot - Mystery Bay!
Now Tilba is a wee village nestled into the side of Mount Gulaga – a very spiritual place for the local Aboriginal people. And I’ve been told a really beautiful story about this Mother Mountain and her children. Mother Gulaga had two sons – Baranguba and Najanuga. One day, they asked if they could go play – Mother Gulaga said yes, but reminded them not to go too far because the sea would come in soon. Najanuga – the smaller son, obeyed and played just a little in front of Mother Gulaga’s feet – he is now the small rocky hill that sits between Tilba and the ocean. Baranguba – the older son – ran out to the ocean where he laid down amongst the fish and the dolphins and the whales – and there he stayed, a rocky island visited by local Aborigines in their canoes for thousands of years – we now call him Montague Island and it is a seabird refuge with a lighthouse. Legend has it that the bond between Mother Gulaga and Baranguba was never broken, and if you stand quietly on her summit and press your ear to her rocks, you can hear the dolphins as they play around Baranguba, her adventurous child. A Tilba local also told me that ANU scientists, studying the hundreds of underground springs and streams in the area, put dye into the springs on Mount Gulaga and sure enough, the same dye came out in streams and ponds on Montague Island. Local Aborigines refer to these sources of fresh water on a rocky ocean crop as Mother Gulaga’s tears. Amazing! I love stories such as these, and the rich and meaningful connections Aboriginal culture makes with its landscape.
You can just make out Montague Island in that photo above. It does indeed look like a person stretched out sleeping. But you can get a much better view of it from Mystery Bay. So – despite the cold and encroaching sunset, down we went. There were a few brave souls on the beach – some fishermen, two women riding horses, and a few children digging in the sand. It is an incredibly beautiful spot. The bay is littered with large sharp rocks and to the north side, a collection of caves, hollowed out from the cliffs. Very Famous Fivish.
It was a beautiful, if fleeting, visit and I’m so looking forward to taking Julian and Abby back there on a glorious summer’s day. The Far South Coast – it just keeps jumping up with more beautiful presents for us every time we visit. According to the neighbours, there’s also a little beach there – Billy’s Beach – that has the best shells ever. Mum and I didn’t find it – sunsetting and all that. But we will …
And you know – Mum, Mary, Cate and Jackie – as I’ve sat here and written these words, the story of Mother Gulaga and her children seems so very very pertinent. Even though Najanuba is the one sitting at Mother Gulaga’s feet – the obvious child who didn’t leave. And even though the ocean has washed in and seemingly cut Mother Gulaga off from her other much loved, adventurous child – Mother Gulaga and Baranguba are inextricably bound. He can still see her from where he lays in the ocean, admire her strength and beauty, and revel in the courage and love she shared with him as a child. She too can see him – she knows that he is part of her, that he shares her history, that he reflects her beauty, courage and love. That long cord that still holds them together will never, can never be truly broken. Forests and farms may grow up between them. Waves may crash around them. Sometimes those dolphin songs may be a bit harder to hear. But that long and ancient cord is incredibly strong and eternal – they will always be Mother and Child.