…was a community force to be reckoned with! There wasn’t much that escaped her eye in the wheat and sheep town of Northampton, Western Australia. Certainly, there weren’t many brave enough to suffer her ire, if they were silly enough to rile her. Having said that, anyone who asked for her help, got it! If you were new in town and your were suffering some sort of hardship – Nana Jones would find you. One day, a long time ago, find us she did.
When my mother and father arrived in the mid 60’s, Nana Jones knew about it. My father took up a teacher’s position at the local district school (primary and high school combined) and whilst that might have made Nana’s job just that little bit easier, it was the details that she knew about you, that really caught people by surprise.
I always felt like Nana Jones knew things about people. Important things. Nana Jones said most in some circumstances, when she said very little at all. She also listened to people and heard them! The business part of Northampton’s main street, wasn’t a long strip, but if you went down town with Nana Jones, you met everybody.
If you needed time, she gave it to you. If you needed something from the shop she’d buy it for you. If you needed fresh meat, it’d be there. If you didn’t have warm clothes – Nana would rock up at your place, with a bag of them! Through all of this – we’d tag along with her. She’d let our little hands help and we’d do the best we could to help her with her deliveries. That or we’d play with the other children when Nana had to yarn with those we were visiting.
Just before I was born, my mum and dad must have been one of those people that Nana Jones had visited. My mother was very, very lonely and a long way away from her traditional lands. Suffering from culture shock, she was reeling from trying to fit into a new world – one that came with her husband whom she loved – a white school teacher.
My mother had never lived on her own before this time. In fact, Mum had never lived in a house at all. Mum had been brought up – against her will – as a member of the stolen generation, in an orphanage and convent in the North West of WA. My mother had been a domestic for most of her childhood years. She knew plenty about keeping a house, but next to nothing about making a home.
Somehow, Nana Jones came to know this. My mother tells me stories about how Nana Jones came to find her and that my mother didn’t need to say a single thing: Nana Jones was an Aboriginal woman too, who’d had her own experiences and survived them. My mother told me that when she opened the door, Nana was standing there with basket of fresh eggs and some mandarins. She said “Hello Dear”, took one look at my mother and in doing so – something passed between them. My mother just crumpled into her arms and sobbing herself silly, Nana then took her inside.
My mother says she wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for Nana Jones. Nana Jones introduced her to other supportive women in the town. She helped her navigate her way past the town bitches and, if any of them attempted to bully my mother – Nana Jones would find out and sort it, more often than not – without saying a single word. Nana took my mother under her wing and brought her up. Imagine that, a grown up woman – having to learn how to be just that… grown up!
Not too much longer past this point, I arrived on the scene. My arrival in this world was a traumatic one – it nearly killed both my mother and myself, making us town celebrities for surviving and making our little family even more grateful for the support Nana Jones gave us. My mother’s recovery was an extremely slow one – given how close she’d came to losing her life. In my first year of life, My mother fed me and kept me – but Nana jones organised a bevy of babysitters to back her up. That’s the sort of woman Nana was – she got stuff done!
A year and 2 days later, my middle brother was born. Four year after that, our youngest brother arrived. In that time, we were raised by my mother, Nana Jones and what seemed like half of Northampton – such was the influence of Nana Jones. My father worked weekends and school holidays on Nana Jones’s farm sometimes, helping Pop Jones in a futile attempt to give back, just a small part of the immense kindness Nana Jones had brought to our family.
I remember sitting on the hot, pressed steel, plough seat, as the tractor bounced it off as many rocks it could find, trying to turn the stubbled paddock over. I remember the pigs in Nana’s pig pen and the belting the big old sow got, when she was cheeky enough to take a nip at Nana’s thigh. In all the time I remember Nana – that pig was the only thing that had ever gotten one up on her and it sure didn’t last long.
I remember the creek, it’s drying creek bed and the hidey holes that frogs sought out when the water racked off and the summer took over. I remember the galvanised steel water tank that was our pool and the slippery sludge we’d slap into each other faces, when we clambered into it.
Mostly though – I remember the mandarin tree.
It was the biggest treat I knew then. It guaranteed an abundance of juicy sweetness, the likes I’ve never found again since. As far back as I can remember, it overflowed with fruit; twinkling a bright, shiny orange, that belied their wrinkled skin and dimpled appearance! It told lies about the land that surrounded it too. Like many farming properties then, it was often hot, dusty and the glare bounced of the bleached stubble baking in the paddock. But that mandarin tree – well… if it was suffering – it sure didn’t show it.
That was, until Nana Jones got sick. Then she got REAL sick and although she fought it off and won the odd battle here and there – Nana Jones didn’t win the war. Breast cancer took her away from us all and I reckon that little town of Northampton must have sighed it’s saddest sigh on that day. We certainly did. Every now and then – I still do.
And that mandarin tree stopped being sweet, itt stopped being plentiful, it soon got sick and it too, died. I’ve never given it much thought you know. That perhaps those two had been connected together in some way, under the ground, their forces combining in ways we could never tell.
Until today, when I bought a bag of mandarins and when I opened it up – BAM! – that memory hit me:
Belongum – Outthem