Over the past year, I’ve been researching my family, discovering the women behind those first immigrants who set off for distant southern shores in the 1850s.
I often think about those farewells… those poor mothers back in England, Scotland or Ireland, who knew they would almost certainly never see their children again. What was their story?
My ancestors were all ‘lower class' -- farm labourers, blacksmiths, railways workers, or ‘in –service’. Very few could read or write, and I was the first person from either side of my family to go to university.
But somewhere, among those ancestors, there must have been someone who loved stories as much as I do. Where did the creative spark come from?
The clues possibly lie in their gardens. My mother will be 82 next month and she still lives on five acres in the Brisbane Valley and spends her days working tirelessly in her garden, which is quite, quite beautiful. Here she is on her 80th birthday, held in her favourite place -- her own garden.
I remember my grandmother’s garden in Sydney – the high hedge at the back full of cicadas in summer, the huge blue heads of hydrangea under her bedroom window in the front, the little brick path that lured me around the side of her house, the sunny rockery by the back door. Playing in her garden is one of my favourite childhood memories.
And mum tells me about my great-grandmother’s garden. This woman, Matilda Potter, had eleven children and apparently her back yard had the merest strip of grass down the middle and the rest was filled with plants -- veggies growing on one side and flowers on the other, and then there were stables and a pigeon coop beyond that.
For these women, gardening was their escape from the slog of housework and it was also a creative outlet.
Have any of you read In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens by Alice Walker (of The Colour Purple fame)?
She asked a similar question. Who among the black mothers of her ancestors, passed on the creative spark which has so enriched her life? She pondered on the beauty her poor, uneducated mother created out of the plot of soil in their tiny garden and so her search began.
I love this quote from her:
And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see -- or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read.
Today, I’m thinking about my mum and everything she's done for me, but also all those mothers who came before us. At least one of you was a dreamer… and for that I give thanks.