Who gave me this? Could it be anyone other than my sister, Lesa? What a Regal gift. Was it my birthday? What year was it? I’ve had this case a long time, since the ’90s I’m sure. Still looks as fresh as the day I got it. One thing about you, love, is you know quality when you see it.
This is my sister Lesa and I on Ray Falconer’s Honda in the back yard of our grandparents’ home in Long Jetty, a part of it which is now called Shelly Beach. It was taken on the day Raymond Joseph MacNamara, our father, was buried at Wamberal. It was also coincidentally my sixth birthday.
The things you come across… Trying to find an old book that belonged to my grandfather, to ask a colleague at the State Library some advice about it, when I came across this photo.
We sometimes think we live in a time of immense and rapid change, but often we’re thinking in terms of gizmos, or the variety of stuff we can buy.
Nan was born in the depths of the Great Depression, when unemployment, homelessness and hunger were common. Australia as a nation was less than 30 years old. God Save the King was our national anthem, and our flag would not be the official Australian flag for another twenty-four years. Canberra hadn’t yet been officially named. The last convict transportees had been shipped to Australia less than a lifetime earlier. Cars were only beginning to come into widespread use, horses played a practical part in everyday lives. ANZAC Day marches were a recent idea, and the participants were all First World War veterans, many of them still young men. Even a roof over your head didn’t guarantee you more than a dirt floor. Her own family lived on what they could grow in their garden and the rabbits her father trapped. Australians divided themselves vividly between Catholic and Protestant. In parts of Australia, Aborigines continued lifestyles that had existed since our European ancestors lived in caves. The bodyline cricket season hadn’t yet been played.
People don’t just live through transition, they’re active participants. They’re responsible for it. It’s people like Nan who brought us from that – to where we are today.
World War II happened during a formative part of Nan’s life, and while it brought austerity to all and terrible sacrifice and loss to many families around Australia, it also brought violence to her own home town. We can’t imagine the terror experienced by a 14 year old girl when more than 1100 escapees were on the loose after the Cowra Breakout. 231 Japanese and 4 Australian soldiers were killed in or around her home town. Real terror of the type we entertain ourselves with in movies, books, TV and computer games nowadays. It was real and she lived it.
The post-war decades saw incredible growth and prosperity for Australia. Modern homes, a car for every family, refrigerators, leisure time, and jobs that could pay for it all – these things only became a reality in Nan’s lifetime. To come from The Depression to that, filled people with optimism. For a long time it was possible to believe the future could only keep getting bigger and brighter, and this no doubt influenced Nan’s outlook. The first decades of her married life were dynamic – moves from Cowra, to Forbes, Dubbo, Cessnock, the Central Coast, and finally to Canberra, the birth of 11 children, and by the late 60s – grandchildren.
The world was changing in big ways. Nan’s daughters were liberated and this meant greater participation in the workforce in the days before the child care system we have today. Nan played a part in raising my sister Lesa, my cousin Dana and I. We were only the first of many of her grandchildren in whose life she played a practical everyday part. It was often only through Nan’s support her daughters were able to participate in work, and that has a lot to do with the prosperity we as descendants and as a society enjoy today. It’s only in recent years people have begun to think about the value of this unpaid domestic work to our economy. But let me tell you – the contribution Nan made was immeasurable.
To my knowledge, apart from one special exception, Nan is survived by all her descendants – children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and now great-great-grandchildren – eighty-five or six of us in all. From where we sit today it’s easy to overlook how extraordinary this is. When Nan was born, and for every generation before her, mortality rates and life expectancy made such an achievement unthinkable. Incredible change and it was achieved by the people of her lifetime. We might picture some character in a lab-coat, fiddling test-tubes to come up with a vaccine for polio, or new antibiotics, and these things did happen in Nan’s lifetime. However, it’s not just improved ideas in medicine, hygiene, nutrition and safety – it’s how we respond to them, and how we put them into practice. How we become the change. Its Nan’s child-rearing that got us here, and by the example she passed on to her children.
Being so numerous, the people of Australia owe us all a tremendous debt for occupying so much of Nan’s time and energy. Imagine if she’d been free for to pursue her other great interests, such as politics? Nobody here could doubt that she’d have forced her way to the front of the pack. It would be totalitarian, and tens of thousands more Australians would have got their back-sides smacked by Nan’s wooden spoon.
If I told you that Mary Anastacia Norton was a timid person, who liked to keep her opinions to herself, you’d say – “This bloke’s turned up at the wrong funeral.”
Here’s the thing – Mothers Have Opinions! It’s practically the job description. From the day we’re born, mothers have an opinion on every aspect of our lives. Sometimes that brings us into conflict with them. Mothers are our checks and balances. Mothers and their input keep us true, cause us to look at ourselves, and whether we adjust ourselves according to their views, or we use them to reinforce our own divergent ones, it makes us who we are. When we disagree, that is simply independence.
Every time I saw Nan she’d repeat some old anecdotes about me. How many of us had that experience – rolling our eyes and thinking – ‘here we go again.’ Mostly they were benign – “Remember that time you got your head stuck between the railings on my front step? ” “Remember the time you kids were smoking under the house?” Others would cause you to cringe – reminders of your own limitations, and more importantly – that she knew them. Last time I saw her there were none of this second type, only fond memories. It was a sign. In her last days all those transgressions were forgotten. That’s a message you can all take away from here today – All Is Resolved.
In a long life there are ups and downs. One constant through all Nan’s life was her friendship with Valda Harper. Friends since they were tiny, Valda was Nan’s bridesmaid. Through all the years, Nan cherished the twice-yearly phone calls on each of their birthdays. Thank you, Valda, for a loyal friendship that made her life so much richer.
One of Nan’s most treasured mementos was the medal awarded to her grandfather, Alf Munz, by the people of Murrumbidgerie, present day Wongarbon near Dubbo, in recognition of his service during the Boer War. This was a source of tremendous pride for Nan. The Boer War is linked in time with Australia’s Federation, our first foray onto the world stage as a nation in our own right – and her own grandfather was part of it. Son of German migrants, by the time of World War 1, Alf found himself labelled “Mun the Hun”, Nan used to say. Nan was not immune to the lessons of her forebears.
One of the greatest experiences of Nan’s life was her visit to Ireland, where she travelled to the places where many of her ancestors originated. The absolute thrill that trip gave her, and the joy it brought her to reminisce about it forever after. Special thanks go to my uncle Glenn for making that possible.
A long and eventful life is not without tragedy. The tragic loss of her brother Jimmy in 1971, a young man with a young family, never left her. Nan cared for her own mother, Maggie, through illness during the last years of her life. Nan keenly felt the heart-break and suffering her mother endured. The scars of these two losses were never too far from the surface. Another tragedy of Nan’s life was the loss of her home and business during the recession of the early 90s. It was a terrible injustice and one can only imagine how powerless it left her feeling, as it must have seemed like all those years of growing prosperity suddenly fell away irretrievably. Though in time she recovered from each, experiences like these alter a person, leaving you never quite the same again.
Nan always left an impact so it was true to form of her to ‘check-out’ on Christmas day. She made sure the day of her passing wouldn’t be forgotten. At least she had the courtesy to wait till the end of the day so we all got a chance to enjoy Christmas with our families.
I was very fortunate to see Nan a couple of times during her final days. That first time I saw her in the hospital I was shocked by how frail she looked. I returned the next day and she was much brighter – she’d had a good sleep. Despite her frailty, in her final days she was more positive and she had greater clarity than I had seen in a long time.
We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that Nan’s journey has ended. Her illness in recent years had left her very dependent on others. There are some types of support in your frailty that you simply don’t want to burden others with, and yet it just happens that way, it’s not like we have a choice. Nan was especially thankful to my cousin Chloe for being there. I know that Chloe, for her part, wouldn’t have thought twice about taking care of Nan. She was part of Nan, and Nan was part of her. Special thanks to Nan’s nurse, Karen, affectionately known as number 12, whose service went beyond the call of duty. Thanks also to Anne-Maree and Lorraine for nursing and for cleaning.
Most of all, our greatest debt of gratitude is to my grandfather, Ron Norton. Pop, without you, in recent years where would she have been? For the past 65 years for that matter. You have been the dutiful husband. In sickness and in health you were there, and now in your grief you go beyond. We’re here for you.
One of the happiest things I saw in recent times was an incredible love and devotion between Nan and Pop. It was really inspiring to see them so close and loving in her final days, in a way I have never seen before. Very, very touching.
The last time I saw Nan, like always her conversation included bits of news about her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. She was always aware of every one of us, what was going on in our lives. She felt our losses and took pride in our achievements. I thought about her own personal losses I mentioned before and how in time she recovered. When I think about her 85 or 86 descendants and look around at many of them today I realise why. You see, you are her greatest achievement. You are her life’s work.
I remember a train to Meiji Jingu
I remember uncertain eyes
I remember a chapter ended,
in the quiet dim of her place in Hakusan
I remember a hero’s mission
I remember his weakness too
I remember a chapter opened,
with bright white at his room in Vaucluse
I remember the author’s depictions
I remember onyx deep nail polish and eyes
I remember the heroine’s Eartha Kitt voice,
timbre thick and warm as a purr
I remember a two-city backdrop
I remember vibrant neon and high-rise skyline
I remember where sleeping sailboats rocked gently
on moonlit harbour waters too
I remember each act in the story
I remember each page that was turned
I remember the plot only deepened
with Hie Jinja’s Shinto rites.
I remember a character’s sacrifice
I remember her alien and displaced
I remember a life newly formed of them
the next story foreshadowed in love
I remember each turn and each dip in this tale
I remember each hope and each loss
I remember, I remember the quiet dim
of Hakusan, where in story they were wrote.
In 1982 Emmanuel Kondok and his family were imprisoned and tortured. His father was killed in captivity and soon after release his brother died of the injuries he’d sustained through torture. Emmanuel’s dramatic escape, alone at 12 years of age, and his arduous journey through eastern Africa afflicted by drought and war is a compelling story of the refugee experience.
I was born in Twic County in the Warrap State in South Sudan. My family were farmers, my father a community leader and a spiritual leader through heredity. In 1982 as we were on our way to market to sell produce we were intercepted by Government forces and imprisoned. My father was accused of conspiring with the rebel army.
The whole family were imprisoned in the local Garrison and tortured. Each day I was sent down to the river to wash the vehicles of the Government forces. On one of these occasions a stranger helped me to escape by swimming across the river. [This first episode in Emmanuel’s escape must have been a harrowing event, more so when you consider it happened at age 12. – scribblehead] I had to cross a broad running river swimming underwater holding my breath, knowing that if I surfaced I would have been shot by the soldiers guarding me.
Reaching the other side I was on my own, afraid for my family but compelled by the will to survive. I was picked up by some strangers and joined them as they fled our homeland for Ethiopia. In the three months after my escape my father was assassinated while in captivity before the rest of my family was released. A further three months later my brother was also dead as a result of the injuries he’d sustained through torture.
The same three months my family remained in captivity, tortured and my father killed, I spent walking to Ethiopia with this band of asylum seekers. The three month walk to Ethiopia was arduous, the countryside laid waste by drought, famine and war. There was no food and no water. People had to eat what they could find in the bush, and drink their own urine. Many perished.
Surviving to reach Ethiopia, I was sent to the Pinyudo Refugee camp where I lived alongside hundreds of thousands of refugees who’d fled the brutal war. I was able to receive some schooling while at Pinyudo. However life in the refugee camp was far from ideal. At times there was as little as 400 grams of food per day.
In 1991 after a change of government in Ethiopia the South Sudanese refugees were forced to return home. Another perilous journey. I remember many people dying as they tried to cross the Gilo River. We lived again not only with constant thirst and hunger, but with the fear of wild animals. Some of those who perished were taken by lion or hyena.
Back in South Sudan I lived in the town of Panchalla on the border with Ethiopia. The Red Cross entered the town with food, water, medical aid and shelter. The aid was short lived however, as after three months the Sudanese army attacked the town, and I was forced to flee for my life yet again. The situation in South Sudan and throughout Sudan was still very dangerous, so I made my way down to Kenya, again seeking asylum from the conflict that was raging in my homeland.
When I arrived in Kenya the UNHCR received us and we were sent to the Kakuma Refugee Camp. It was while in Kakuma in 1995 I met and married my wife, Mrs Aluel Deng Piyom.
The conditions in Kakuma were also not ideal, there was often fighting between the locals and refugees, but I still found the opportunity to go to school, and I was able to finish my Secondary Schooling in 1997. Going to school was important. I learnt a lot about the world, and gained more and more knowledge about the bad things within it.
I became a Youth Leader in the camp, working with the Catholic Mission to organise social activities and teaching the children, and also with UNICEF helping to distribute school materials and teaching farming practices. I also worked with different non – government organisations advocating peace in South Sudan and Sudan.
In 2005, twenty-three years after I first fled my homeland seeking asylum, the Australian government accepted me and I moved to Sydney with my wife and two children. When I arrived in Australia I soon found a job in a fruit packing factory. I worked there for four years. I now work to support African communities living in Western Sydney.
My expectations in coming to Australia were that it would be peaceful, and that my children would be able to go school, to learn English, and to mingle with Australian children.
Learning English was difficult, and I also do miss my family in South Sudan. I know I have had a good life here; electricity, public transport and comfortable home. I also know that in Southern Sudan people are still suffering. I’m nowadays working very hard to see that other Southern Sudanese, especially children, will have the capacity to grow, just as I have had the opportunity to do.
In Australia I’ve worked hard to continue my education. I received an Advanced Diploma of Human Resources & Management from Granville TAFE in 2011. I also finished the Diploma of Management with Careers Australia, and I currently study for a Bachelor of Applied Business Management with University of Ballarat.
I founded the Southern Hope Community Organisation Incorporated (SHCO) in 2010, a charitable registered not-for-profit organisation providing help and support to Southern Sudanese African Australians. We provide support to widows, orphans, isolated community members and individuals who cannot do things due to disability.
The SHCO mission is to prepare South Sudanese immigrants residing in Australia to become productive citizens by providing a work and learning environment where they feel challenged, respected & accountable as they strive to meet the demands of citizenship. Our aim is to improve the lives of South Sudanese families and support their smooth integration into Australian life and local Community.
I would say to Australian a big thank you for what you have done for opening the door to refugees from all over the world.
From the age of 12 Emmanuel endured hardships no child should ever experience. He now works to ensure a better life for Southern Sudanese both in Australia and back in Africa, and also to raise awareness of the issues facing South Sudanese. On the occasion of my 44th birthday what I wish is that Emmanuel’s children never suffer from the intolerance toward refugees that so many in our community like to express, enflamed by our profligate mass media and our defective political leaders, and which has at its root the same evil that infected the hearts of those who forced Emmanuel to endure what he did. My birthday wish is that Emmanuel and his family find peace here, that his children go to school and learn about the good that is in the world, and that he and his children mingle with Australians, where their different origins are respected and appreciated, and among whom they will each be accepted as one of our own. – Scribblehead
Visit the Southern Hope Community Organisation web site www.shco.com.au and consider donating.
Take a close look at it, what do you see?
Just a declaration to the world that I am taken?
Could it be more?
A symbol, a circle? Two ends joined to make a whole?
There are ten thousand tiny scratches on its surface
And a few deeper ones
Each one of them capturing a day’s event
A cricket ball thrown, a flower pruned
A spanner turned, a door opened
A guitar chord changed, a jar opened
A keyboard struck, a door closed
The earth tilled, a child caught
A document shuffled, a child lifted
A hand held…
All together a testament to life. My life with you.
Ten thousand otherwise meaningless occurences etched on its surface
that only have meaning
because I shared them with you.
This particular ring…
…is my ring.
It has become a part of me.
It takes quite some effort to remove it from my finger.
When it is gone you can see that it’s missing
I feel a part of me out of place.
Hold it in your palm it says nothing but me.
Throw it far out in the ocean and it says we’re through
Cherish it right there on my hand and it’s the closest we will ever come to eternity.
This ring I wear.
This ring I wear for you.