The Sum of Us…

I’ve just been reading my cousin’s biography.

Nick Riewoldt is the well-known and well-regarded ex Saint Kilda player (football on a par with soccer in Australia, an iconic game) and Allen & Unwin released his autobiography earlier this month after his retirement

Nick’s young. Close to my son’s age.

It’s hard to believe that someone so young has a story to tell. But I sat engrossed this afternoon and am up to page 170. He writes emotively, self-deprecatingly. And he has such a story. A vibrant German history, his parents separating at a crucial time in his young life (and fortunately, much later, coming together again), being drafted into the AFL at such an impressionable age and half a nation’s distance between he and his family. And then his loved sister being diagnosed with Aplastic Anaemia, a disease which took her most cruelly from the family.

This is a journey through Nick’s emotional growth as much as anything and how one location – Orford on the east coast of Tasmania – was his anchor. Until he met his wife and who like all perfect partners, is the yin to his yang.

The thing with Orford is that is like the glue that binds us all. It’s something, rather like the islander mentality, that I would like to investigate more because it binds my own little family tightly.

Reading and thinking, I decided that we are all obliged to write down our family histories. Like the title of Nick’s book, it is what makes us.

I regret not talking with Dad about my grandfather, finding out what my paternal family did after they arrived in Australia from Ireland during the Great Potato Famine. I know they were weavers in Ireland but what did they do when they arrived in Melbourne?

And what did they do in Scotland before they escaped to Ireland at the time of the Battle of Glencoe. (They were Wallaces). I regret not knowing more about my paternal grandad than that he was a quiet, loving man who adored books, was deaf, and who worked as a bookbinder. My grandmother used to have to wait at the bus for him at night because he had Meniere’s Disease and she would walk arm in arm with him to their house because in the dark and without visual markers, he would walk like a drunkard and was most definitely not. But that’s all I know because he died before I even had a memory of him. Sad, isn’t it? To even find photos, I need to unlock the sea-chest in the city that has old black and white images of him.

Mum’s family however, have a larger history. I have our convict history thanks to my cousin, Peter, who researched it in great detail and which I have safely stored away for the novel I will write, late next year, based on Maria Island’s convict history. I know much about my maternal Nanny and Pa and the fact that on my maternal side, I have German heritage from an area called the Ruhrgebiet through Greatgrandma Nerrenhein. But when did she come to Tasmania and why?

But I have many wonderful stories about my mum’s life. Colourful and exciting stories which have formed a foundation for our own.  And of course, I have stories of Mum and Dad together because theirs was a marriage to celebrate.

So happy and such kindred spirits. It was glorious. My Dad had great stoicism, coping with bowel cancer, detached retinas which caused blindness in one eye and ultimately emphysema which took him from us. Mum had great strength and courage, nursing him through the cancer, being his eyes and his chauffeur and then finally cherishing him in his terminal years – loving him all the time. I’m so proud of them both.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I flew to Victoria and visited his parents’ grave in the country. They too had a long marriage of great love and devotion, my husband’s dad caring for his wife who had multiple sclerosis for more than forty years.

We walked through the rural cemetery and took many pics of family headstones, simply because we want to add to our history, to celebrate the paternal side of our children’s lives.

For example, we always knew of the man known as Black Sass. What a great name for an ancestor! He was my mother-in-law’s grandfather. Through him, my husband has Italian connections, and we discovered on the headstone that Black Sass had two marriages, his first wife dying very young. So there is much to discover, somewhere in Italy. We also have a strong farming heritage we can trace back to the land grants during the time of Hume and Hovell, a heritage that we are carrying on here in Tasmania.

But there are such tales of adventure and romance to be found in the past and more than anything, I really love the chance of finding why the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

My point is don’t let those stories die with the actors.

Keep them alive, as Nick has done. Write them down. And write them with emotion! Just as if you are writing a novel. Give the actors their lives back again, just like Nick has. Because one day, there will be a grandchild or a great grandchild who will be glad!