Today I went over to visit my mum. She is in her 70s. We lost my dad earlier this year.
I guess the whole family is grieving, but the impact on Mum has been the most significant, and it has been a bit tricky getting her out of the house lately. She is a bit depressed, and she does not want to go out and do things.
I popped over because my partner Logan was going out busking in Mandurah, which is a lovely waterside town near where we live. So, I said, “come with me, and we will go down, and sit in the park. and get a coffee, and we will listen to music for an hour, and then, we will go home.” And – she never says this, it was so easy – She just went, “OK. I will finish my cup of tea, and then I will go get changed.” I was like, “Wow!” I was expecting to have a discussion to talk her into it but – awesome!
So, she went off to get changed, and then I got a message from Logan saying that it had started to rain, and he was going to pack up and go home! I was devastated. Mum was in her room getting ready. I went up and said, “Oh Mum, it started raining, Logan’s not busking anymore, we can still go out for a coffee if you want.” And she said, “Oh, no. Let’s just have a cuppa here.”
So, we did, and we just sat around and had a chat. Usually, if I am over at my mum’s house -I come from a big family: I’ve got four sisters, we’ve all got kids, so you know there are usually a dozen kids in between the ages of 12 months to 25 about the place, lots of little ones, so it is noisy. But it was just me, Mum, and my 15-year-old niece, and she went out at some point. So, we got to sit and talk, which is a bit unusual.
Mum started reminiscing about the past, and she said, “Does this mean I am getting old because I am taking a trip down memory lane?” I said, “No, I think it just means there are no kids here, and you are not getting interrupted!”
My family comes from Belfast. I was born there in 1971. Think peak troubles. It was a really difficult time in that country, and Mum and Dad had grown up there.
Mum started out talking about how it was normal, but it was not normal.
They knew there were soldiers, and there were tanks, and you just saw this stuff all around you all the time. You just had to get on with your business. Then, every now and then, a firefight or a skirmish or something would break out, and life would be in danger. So, it was a very, very precarious and traumatic situation.
I do not quite understand the reason why it’s not referred to as a civil war, but that’s really what it was. They were living in a war zone. So, she talked about how, when she met my dad, he was keen to move to Australia, right off.
He was a dental mechanic. He made false teeth. So, he was not well off, but not poor. He was doing OK. He had a good solid job, and he had a trade and thought he would have better opportunities in Australia. My mum really did not want to because she didn’t want to leave her family and her parents behind. So, this was something that had been floated, I think, even before they got married. Or even when they were planning their wedding. Dad said he would like to do this, but Mum did not want to go, so he went along with her.
But then – so I have one older sister – she was born a year and a bit before I was, and then myself – so, here’s Mum at home. Two little kids. Two under two, and Dad was out working. Mum talked about a couple of things that really impacted her decision to move.
One thing that I didn’t know was that my Dad’s parents -I think they were the second couple in his family to emigrate- emigrated in their 60s because their house was firebombed. That seems like a good reason to pack up and go. A lot of my dad’s family had already moved here, but no one from my mum’s family had.
So, mum said that her father’s car was stolen. He was kidnapped, tied up, blindfolded, and held in a room so that the IRA could steal his car, which was then used in a car bombing. There is a whole other story about how he had to go and testify in London about that.
But, apparently, what happened was when these two IRA guys had grabbed him – and my family is catholic, so they are theoretically on the IRA side. Mum and Dad were really not into the conflict, they did not agree with the violence. But they were catholic, so they were playing for the same team.
So, my Grandad gets grabbed, tied up, blindfolded, held in a room while they get his car.
When he was released and came home, he told the family that it was two young fellows holding him. They were throwing a rifle around, a machine gun, tossing around, mucking about with it. One of them dropped on the floor. The other guy said, “Jesus, what you have done it that had gone off and shot this guy?” And the other one said, “Ah, we will just throw him on the barricade and say the prods did it.”
When Mum heard this -and it was something that she had kind of already known- she was just horrified by the lack of respect for life and the life of the people that they were fighting for could be dismissed so casually.
Then she told me a couple of stories about going out for a walk. When my sister was a baby, she would put her in the pram and go for a walk to visit her mum. This was about an hour’s walk to a different part of town.
She said she was walking along one time when the gunfire started. Not anything that she could see. She happened to be walking past a pub, and a man came out and said, “Come in here, daughter, get inside until this stops,” and so she did.
Then, another time, she said she was waiting to cross the road, and two groups of soldiers started shooting at each other. She thought that they could both see that she was a young woman with a baby in a pram, but they did not care about her. If she was killed in the crossfire, she just got killed, and it meant nothing to them. So, she had all of that on her mind.
Then one day, she was watching my sister, or maybe it was my sister and me. There was a cul de sac, and all the kids from the surrounding houses –they were tenement houses- would come and play because that was the only open space.
Mum would always tell us, “Do not hate people. We do not care if people are protestant or catholic. Everybody’s just people. Be kind to people.” But she was looking at us playing in the yard with all the kids, and nearly every one of those houses was part of the IRA. She said, “I knew that there was nothing I could do to take you kids out of that, and no matter how much I told you that you need to be kind and not hate people, you were going to hear it everywhere, and you were going to grow up with that kind of hate.”
And that was her decision to leave.
It made me think about him when I used to work in the detention centre system here in Australia, and I ended up getting into a lot of arguments with people who were expressing intolerant attitudes to refugees.”
You, anybody, no matter who you are.
You are living in a warzone.
You have a family.
Are you not going to take whatever means you have available to take your family somewhere safe?
My parents were fortunate in that there was a legal avenue that they could take. They were not rich, but financially secure enough that they could afford to uproot and take the family away, and they had support when they got here. So, in that regard, they were quite lucky.
But what if Australia wasn’t crying out for immigrants at that particular time? What if borders had been closed? Would my parents have paid someone to get them out of the country illegally? Possibly because they were fearing for their lives and living in a situation that they knew was going to be damaging for the children.
So, thank you, Mum, and thank you, Dad. You were very brave doing that, and I’m grateful.
This is probably where I’ve gotten a lot of my attitudes about approaching everybody that you meet with an attitude of kindness.