…our Norwest family said our ‘Goodbye’s’ to my Grandmother. Gran was 91 years of age; no mean feat for a lady born in 1919, in a remote Aboriginal community in the far north west of Western Australia.
It was a full-on family affair and it was intensely Catholic. It was a mixture of beliefs. It always is. I struggle every day with the way that both ‘worlds’ can co-exist inside of people much like my Gran; how she walked the even (if somewhat difficult at times) keel that she did is a mystery to me – but hey, that’s a story for another time – one that is mostly about me.
This one is about my Gran. Her church service was presided over by none other than the Bishop himself. He wouldn’t have had it an other way. Many years ago he returned to Broome town re-invented as a Catholic priest. My Grandmother – already a well-established part of Broome’s Catholic community – considered it her responsibility to connect this new priest to the wider Aboriginal community.
So much so he said, that when his parents came to visit and then eventually prepared to leave, my Gran stepped up to his mother and told her not to worry about her son: “I’ll be his Mum here,” she said. And so it was. The Bishop had called Gran ‘Mum’ ever since. Such is the way in which people are adopted into and given place in Aboriginal families.
The Bishop wanted us to remember the sort of person my Gran was in his life, so he shared with us 2 stories. He couldn’t have chosen better, because one made us laugh out loud and the other made us cry, so I’ll share these with you now:
One Sunday – in the middle of morning Mass – the Bishop paused in his sermon and suggested to my Gran that the dog ‘accompanying her’ might actually be better off outside as it was a little cooler out there.
Privately, the Bishop didn’t like having dog’s in his church, but Gran had steadfastly refused to take up any hints he’d deemed to share with her on this matter; that dog went everywhere with my Gran, it was as much a part of her as the limbs upon her body. Why wouldn’t it go to church with her?
Upon receiving this suggestion from the good Bishop, my Gran’s reply simply stopped all further discussion on the matter: “What for?” She said in that typically Kimberly manner of hers: “He can’t hear you out there!”
When we all finished having a good laugh; imagining the look on her face and the tone she wold have employed, the Bishop prepared us for his other story.
A fair while ago, he said – a well known Broome ‘Gadiya’ (white) woman made quite a scene in the local media – with some rather disparaging comments about Aboriginal people in the town. Apparently; deeply caught up in her frustration and hurt, she pulled no punches and offended many with her spray!
When the next day dawned it was obvious to many that the woman involved actually regretted the things she said. However, as the words were already out there and already doing their damage she was at a loss as to what she could do to ‘take back’ the things she’d said.
My Gran sought this woman out, the Bishop said. Gran went right up to that woman and stood in front of her, looking her in the eye. Then my Gran did the thing least expected by anyone looking on at the time: she gathered that lady up in a big hug and forgave her. Both women then cried in each others arms – such was the pain they were feeling and the tension they were letting go.
When I realised the Bishop had finished, I looked up and a tear dropped into my lap. I reached up and felt the wetness under my eyes. I’d been silently crying; sitting there and hearing this Bishop tell us of this amazing woman who was (and still remains) my Grannie, his Kimberley mother and, his dear friend.
I don’t know if you can imagine the kind of life my grandmother survived to reach her age. Born in 1919 as an Aboriginal woman in a remote North West Australian frontier, meant that my Gran had no rights whatsoever for well over half of her lifetime. In 1967 certain things changed – but the basis upon which my Gran still managed to eke out an existence hadn’t – she struggled on until she grew up her own 7 kids and she did the best she could to make them and her other son’s and daughters around her strong.
This is why my mother’s so strong, because Gran never let her fall off the wayside and become completely abandoned when she was taken. My mother was encouraged to stand tall and be proud of who she is. Mum survived her hard times in life because she had our Gran watching her back. Gran did this for as many of her sons and daughters (you might say her nephews and nieces – but it wouldn’t be the same) as she possibly could. If you knew my greater family up that way – you’d know exactly what I’m talking about. We wouldn’t be half of who we are – if it wasn’t for people like my Gran.
May you rest in peace Gran. I wish I’d have been a better grandson – but I can’t for the life of me recall a time that I (or any one of the other multitude of grandchildren you have) have ever disappointed you. You had an amazing ability to make the same size space in your heart for all of your loved ones – no matter who they were, where they were or how they chose to lead their lives.
You loved us all – without favor – and we loved (and still love) you! Be well where you go Gran… we have been incredibly blessed!
Belongum – Out!