My grandmother used to live with us when I was growing up. Nana had a granny flat down the back – a converted garage. If mum was going out us kids would sleep down there, either on a stretcher bed or the floor. My Nana’s name was Annabel Isobel Agnes Clark McLean Klineberg. She was Scottish – and proud if it. When I was 6 my cousins came to stay with us for a few months. They had been living in Malaya as my uncle was in the airforce. They stayed with us while their house in Queanbeyan was getting ready. Of course there was not enough beds up in the house, so my cousins and I would sleep down with my grandmother.
As it was just one room, she would turn off the light at bed time and tell us stories. In the morning she would make us tea and toast with real butter. It was always a wonderful breakfast.
When I turned 8 Nana and and my uncle bought a property in Jacaranda Ave, Patonga. To get to Patonga on the Central Coast we would leave home before daylight, catch a train to Hawkesbury River station and wait for the ferry to take us around to Patonga. The house was a tiny, just 2 bedrooms and you had to have your shower outside. This never bothered us – we were on holidays. It wasn’t where we used to go on holidays, but that didn’t matter.
Patonga had many wonderful possibilities as a place for holidaying – the sandhills were great fun to roll down and the picture theatre was open of an evening screening movies for just 40c. It was pretty much just across the road from the house – not even a minute’s walk away. It was an idyllic spot, quiet and safe. Us kids would walk and fish and swim. Sometimes we would hire a row boat and row across the other side of the creek. Nana when she was able would beach fish down at Dark Corner. She loved beach fishing, and would catch flathead that she would cook for dinner. Most holidays we got together with my cousins – sometimes even my second cousins.
The house in jacaranda Ave was small, but we didn’t mind because we were out and about most of the day. We would come home for lunch and then come back again just as it was getting dark in the late afternoon. Sometimes for lunch we would get fresh chips wrapped in newspaper and make chip butties with the tank loaf that my Nana bought from the bread shop. Other times we would get the really thin chocolate bars and make chocolate sandwiches. It was so good! There was always plenty to do during the day. Night time was really the only time that we were all together. There was no TV to watch and we would go to bed early. Not just the kids, but everyone. The adults always had the beds and us kids we were happy to sleep on the floor. It was magic.
Most nights, Nana would tell her stories. She would tell the story of her journey from Scotland on the ship when she was just 9 years old and the boyfriend she had onboard. She would tell the story and how hard it was as the youngest child to leave behind her sister who had married in Scotland and her two brothers who had died in the War.. She would tell the story about her holidays at Patonga when she was young and meeting up with her cousins and doing daring things that today would be considered dangerous. She would tell the story of how her older brother just disappeared one day and they never heard from him again and the pain and grief associated with this loss She would tell the story of how she lied about her age so that she could marry a man out of her faith as she knew her parents would not consent and how their time together was cut so very short as he suffered a heart attack at 39 and died.
Nana had so many stories to share and holidays were so rich because we had the opportunity to be transported into another world - another time. We were there when she said goodbye to her sister crying with her, we were there when she was aboard the ship, we were with her when she lied to the registry office determined they wouldn’t find the truth. and we were there when she fought courageously to bring back life to the man she loved. We learnt of her struggles and her triumphs.
Sometimes we would hear the stories that we already knew and sometimes we would hear new stories. It didn’t matter. Her stories were real – open and authentic. It was through her storytelling that we saw who she really was, and who she had been – bold, courageous and beautiful.
My Nana and uncle only had the house for a few years before it was sold.
As I grew older there seemed to be less and less opportunities to hear her stories, and over time I forgot many of them.
Now I want to share her stories with my daughter so she knows that she comes from a strong line of women. I am reaching out to my cousins and family to help me fill in the gaps as I am being called to collect and write her stories. What a legacy she has left me!
Don’t let your family stories disappear. I urge you. Hold onto them all – write them down, write your own stories down. Don’t worry about getting it right – just tell the stories – the important ones – the ones that define who you really are – write them now because once they are truly gone you wish you could remember.
Now I can close my eyes and imagine that I am listening to my Nana’s stories again.
Here is a photo of Nana fishing down at Dark Corner.