A couple of years ago my Mum bought a house in her home town of New Zealand. It’s a small town but she’s always spoken of ‘home’ with fondness especially given that it’s ‘home’ for her and Dad despite spending more of her life here in Australia than there in NZ. Nothing much happens in this small town and I’m not even sure if it’s a main drag to anywhere. None of us could understand why she bought the house but she loves a project and it was a dive, it needed a complete renovation so over the last two years she’s spent her annual leave flying over to NZ to do some hard yards and manual labour loving and restoring the house back to it’s original state adding her own touch of “Mum”. This is going somewhere, I promise……
I shall digress….
Like most people with a media background I cannot help but watch a TV show, movie or tele-movie and, if it captures my imagination, I Google the crap out the subject matter to find out every last detail about said subject. It’s obsessive behaviour but appeals to my inner journalist because secretly, I’ve always wanted to be an Oprah researcher. No. I’ve wanted to be Oprah. With kids. Less Dogs and a Stedman, who talks.
Let’s take INXS “Never Tear Us Apart”, the mini-Series that was shown on Channel 7 the last two Sunday nights. Unlike most people who would have curled up into bed singing INXS songs to themselves and possibly spooning their spouse, I ignored the big guy last night, left him on the sofa and toddled off to bed spending the following three hours watching old footage of Michael’s funeral, Paula Yates interviews following his death and numerous documentaries. When I couldn’t get enough of that, I tweeted the lead actor, Luke Arnold, to tell him how fabulous he was. I didn’t expect a response but I just needed to validate to the interweb that I loved the series and someone, anyone, needed to know. It was a late night but I do feel very well informed now!
After watching Channel 9’s LOVE CHILD tonight which follows the lives of staff and residents at the fictional Kings Cross Hospital and Stanton House, a ‘home’ of sorts connected to a maternity hospital for unwed mothers to complete their gestation in ‘confinement’ I did the same thing. They had their babies ‘taken’ and put up for adoption before being returned home in a tidy state. I was hooked but also mortified that this practise took place and that worse, those babies, if any of this has an ounce of truth, are only in their 50’s. This is raw stuff so I went searching for more.
The very brilliant Mandy McElhinney’s (AKA Rhonda from Rhonda and Ketut’s) portrayal of the matron struck a chord with me. She was exactly like my Grandmother. Then it hit me LIKE A BRICK IN THE FACE…..erk, my paternal Great Grandmother ran a maternity hospital in New Zealand. It was a Maternity Home called Dalkeith and almost every baby from about 1930 to 1960 (very approximate) born in that town was born in Great Grandma’s hospital. I can remember my Grandmother telling me about unwed mothers who came to deliver their babies. For a brief second I hoped and prayed she wasn’t part of any cover ups or baby stealing or forced adoptions and I am sure she didn’t but for the first time in ages, I wished I had my Grandma sitting on the sofa next to me telling me those stories again now that I wanted to hear them. Again I Googled. I only found this picture, I don’t even know if this is the hospital but it is referenced in the blurb on the pic.
Grandma always had kind things to say about all mothers who delivered there, I do remember that much. An older mother herself, she wasn’t a touchy feely kind of woman but I am sure that’s a sign of the times. I immediately called Dad who was slightly bemused at my sudden interest in family history but he assured me that Grandma and Great Grandma weren’t involved in any underhanded shenanigans and that perhaps I should call my Aunt who would have more vivid memories than him. Resume Googling – I found a gazillion distant relatives on ancestry.com, that place can suck you in faster than a bath loses water but I resumed Googling and came up with nothing. All of a sudden Google couldn’t help me. I was pissed off.
I then remembered that Mum worked at a Psychiatric Hospital in Woollahra in the 70’s – I was desperate to talk to her about her experiences there as I remember as a little kid sitting behind the telephone switchboards pulling chords out and disconnecting Doctors from important patient calls and being told to sit quietly whilst Mum worked. It was a crazy place with crazy people and crazy looking nurses in weird headgear.
Then I remembered. Mum’s overseas. In New Zealand, in the small town where her and Dad both grew up and where that same building and former Maternity Hospital, Dalkeith, still stands. She’s renovating her ‘wee’ house.
All thanks to a few TV shows and modern technology, I get it now.
I get why Mum bought the house in her home town. It’s memories. Really important memories for her and it took me a few years but the importance of family and family history, passing stories down and listening when people tell you something became abundantly clear.
The Big Guy just said, sitting on the sofa right now “One of the great sadnesses of life is that we are rarely old enough to appreciate the wisdom of our older generations while they are still young enough to share it with us.”
Too true. I’m off to go talk to some old people……..