My Nanna died yesterday at the grand age of 92. She was the last of my grandparents. While her passing is sad, the loss of an old person always carries emotions of regret and loss for the thousands of stories that have gone with them. Stories of other worlds that we cannot even begin to imagine, even as writers. We might do a reasonable job of ‘recreating’ the past; but there is nothing as good as hearing it from the people who lived it.
Sadly, Nanna’s dementia made capturing much of these stories a near impossible task.
But here is one, for the record.
‘Mum grew up in Yarraman.’ I remember my mother telling me this when I was a teenager.
And I clearly remember my response. ‘Where the hell is Yarraman?’
Inland. West. Out towards Kingaroy. In other words, the end of the Earth.
The irony is that I now live just ‘down the road’ from Yarraman. Today, it’s a tiny town–blink and you miss it. Then? I have seen photos hanging on the wall of service station that are from the early 1900s. It was a dirt road with a pub and a general store. That’s about all.
Nana’s father was a violent alcoholic and Nana was one of ten children. Her father would frequent the Yarraman Hotel, which is still there. You can still order a drink through the little windows in the wall on the footpath. Her father would take his horse to the pub, drink far too much, and then climb back on board his trusty steed and promptly fall asleep. The dear horse knew the way so well that he would carry him home and stop at the gate. The horse would whinny to announce their arrival and my great-grandmother would hear that her husband had arrived and go and fetch him down off the horse’s back.
This simple story conveys so much, about a time when women weren’t allowed in the pubs, when ‘domestic violence’ was a shameful and silent secret and probably not even a term that existed, when a horse was a family’s most valuable possession and yet shot dead the minute it couldn’t go on, when a pub was the extent of a town’s recreational outlet, and when a little girl learned that alcohol and men were to be feared.
Nana went on to work in the peanut factory in Kingaroy. She later moved with her family to Paddington and lived in a ‘workers cottage’ (the same cottages now worth a fortune) on Latrobe Terrace and she would run down the hill when she heard the tram coming. She worked in the original Shingle Inn in the city, wearing the old uniforms with the tall hats and aprons. She used to beat the boys in cricket, married quite late and really only then because she wanted children. She lived through the depression and numerous wars, raised cows and goats and chickens, bred Golden Retriever dogs, learned to make leather goods, worked in a saddlery, made a great fruit cake but horrible stewed cabbage, was a good Catholic yet divorced her husband when she was in her sixties but then cared for him through his decline with schizophrenia and Huntington’s disease, was a mother to four, a grandmother to twelve and a great-grandmother to several who are flung far and wide through Queensland.
The richness of her story is great. Her story is in my story and your story. But most of it we will never know.