Saturday, 9 May 2015

And The Greatest Of These Is Love

Join me on a very personal journey as I talk about what Mother's Day means to me, illustrated with a small selection of images of some of my direct line female ancestors (captioned with maiden names).

Annie Robinson, my mother's paternal grandmother.
She lived from 1891 to 1973

Mother's Day irks me, but not for the reasons you might expect. Yes, it is tiresome to be assaulted by an endless stream of marketing paraphenalia in the supermarket when doing my shopping or finding a thousand catalogues for cheap jewellers clogging my letterbox all screeching FOR A SPECIAL MUM!!!!!! It's also distressing to be reminded over again that my own mum is gone. But the most irksome thing for me is the assumption by the general public that every woman over the age of 30 or so must have children. The best statistics I can find indicate that around 85% of women in Australia will have children in their lifetime so I guess you'd have a five in six chance of being right, which is pretty good odds.

Annie Robinson
I've never really liked or connected with children, even when I was one (although I have made a few exceptions over the years). In general I find them confusing and unsettling, prone to asking uncomfortable questions I have no answer for and staring at me in unsettling ways. I like reason, logic and order. Children are chaos, devolution and anarchy; and it never stops. I just wasn't like that when I was a child, and I know a few people who read my blog knew me as a child so they are free to disagree or clarify if they wish. I can hear the intake of breath from those of you who have seen my photographic work with children - but you take such good shots of kids Anna! Yes, because I work really bloody hard at it. It just doesn't come naturally.

Elizabeth Williams, my father's maternal
grandmother. She lived 1858 to 1940. In this
photo she is holding Violet Hickey my father's mother
So it's really no surprise that I made it to 46 without any children. My first marriage lasted about five minutes and by the time I got around to marrying again I was 40, generally considered past it in the reproduction stakes, so it was never a chat the Brashster and I really had. One of my favourite cartoons of all time which resided on my fridge forever is this one:

Having said all of this it's not a secret that I've had two miscarriages, although I usually don't open the conversation at parties with the fact. In late 2010 to my complete shock, horror and amazement I fell pregnant at the age of almost 42. After we got over the surprise I was almost a bit chuffed at myself for achieving what I'd assumed was impossible, and we were just getting used to the idea when I miscarried a couple of weeks later. A second pregnancy took hold the following month again to my amazement, this one ending badly about 11 weeks along in the emergency room then operating theatre of a hospital in San Diego. I'll never forget the southern drawl of the gynaecologist doing my ultrasound: "well, y'all are havin' a miscarriage". Thank you for stating the obvious.

Annie Robinson (right), Eileen Askew my mother's
mother (left) and my mother Diana Lowe (middle)
I was amazed at the emotions this whole experience raised in me, not just the way pregnancy changed my body but the way it changed my outlook on motherhood in a completely involuntary way I'm still in awe of. In the short period of time I was pregnant I gained an understanding of and empathy for the primal nature of motherhood I had never really grasped before, the fiercely protective feeling of underlings at your feet and your breast, and how your own life becomes secondary. So no, I'm not a mother. But I was, for a total of about five short months, and it changed me forever in a way that can never be undone.

Violet Hickey my father's mother. She lived 1900 to 1946
dying of an unspecified illness at the age I am now
A young Violet Hickey in an undated photograph

A Letter To My Never-Born Children

I'm sorry I couldn't get you over the line. I'm not sure if the problem was yours or mine; either way I'm happy to accept Mother Nature's ruling on the outcome. I think of you every day. Who you might have looked like, been like. Would I have been the mother to you that you deserved? Could I have been the mother to you that my own was to me? 

Eileen Askew at my parents' wedding in the sixties.
She lived 1910 to 1989
Eileen Askew
A young Eileen Askew in an undated image
If I were younger things might have been different, I might have held on to one or both of you, or your father and I might have kept trying and our lives would have taken vastly different paths. We did consider it for a while, but it seemed like we would be doing it for all the wrong reasons and we should simply take from the whole experience the lessons that life intended and move on. Don't ever think that I didn't want you. I wanted you more than anything in the world. I still do. I don't think that losing you will ever leave me. I've heard it described as like having a brick in your pocket. You don't notice the weight until you put your hand in your pocket and suddenly it's there.

My mother Diana Lowe, circa 1951. She lived 1943 to 2014
My mother Diana and her sister Eileen Lowe. Eileen lived 1933 to 2010
I consider you our 'sliding doors' moment, a tiny glance into a parallel universe to have the opportunity to understand something that I could know no other way, and from this gain a deeper understanding of motherhood, and of my own parents' love for me. So thank you, for this I'm deeply grateful. 
My mother Diana Lowe and myself as a baby in an
undated photograph likely late 1969

Monday, 4 May 2015

Solidarity Forever

It's no secret to any of you following the blog that I have more than a bit of pinko in me and sometimes put it out on display. Last weekend saw Labour Day marches across the country and the world, reminding everyone that the work entitlements we take for granted were actually hard fought for and won by workers, and we won't hesitate to fight for them again if and when necessary. 

It's probably no secret either that I'm studying industrial relations, which goes hand in glove with my obvious interest in social justice and union and political connections. This study has opened up a whole new world for me, especially delving into the theoretical approaches behind the ongoing debate between radicals and conservatives and all the iterations of those in between.

The Brashness and I took part in Saturday's march here on the Gold Coast in Queensland so I've illustrated this blog with a selection of images from the morning setup, the march as it worked its way through the streets of Southport and down into Broadwater Parklands, and the great day of family fun afterwards. 

The Brashness had a choice of two hats to wear for this march - his Labor Party hat or his Queensland Nurses' Union hat. Brash is a nurse at our local public hospital, frequently working in wards like nursery special care and emergency, and he also works at his union providing advice to members about issues. See if you can spot him in any photos!

Australian Council of Trade Unions President Ged Kearney is right when she says that at the heart of it the industrial relations debate is about people: 'At the most fundamental level, our workplace system is based on a broad and enduring social consensus: that workers’ rights must be protected and there is a role for policy intervention to ensure they are rewarded equitably for their efforts'. And yes, the ACTU President is a woman, which was news to one of my classmates who discussed her in a forum as 'he' not 'she'. Mental note to my classmates - check your facts. I'm guessing this person was a liberal :).

There seems to be a lot of misinformation in the community in general about unions - the word means simply the 'action of joining together' or 'an association formed by people with a common interest or purpose'. Unions are simply made up of like-minded people - or as the slogan says, WE are union. 

Do you enjoy a five day week, eight hour day, annual leave, sick days, penalty rates, overtime, a safe workplace or any combination of the above? If you do, thank a union. In fact, you should thank the union movement for most of our modern day worker's rights and entitlements including the minimum wage. The Labor Party itself arose out of the union movement in the late eighteen hundreds and is Australia's oldest political party. 

So the next time someone says 'what's the union ever done for me?', feel free to give them a list.

Here's a short video of the march coming into the Parklands: