My Stanthorpe daughter is a whole library of posts. How to reduce her to one? And dare I impose my memories of her on the richness of her life?
I know she’s my daughter, because I saw the small birthmark on her right eyebrow while she was still umbilically attached, and because everyone who meets me up here says “My god. You two look so alike!” However on all other evidence I’d wonder.
She spent her childhood largely with my mother while I was at work, and they had a bond I would love to have with my grandchildren. They read many stories together and shared the invention of a little pink pig who lived under the lemon tree in my mother’s back yard. They had picnics and visited apple country at Bilpin, where as a three year oldshe was fascinated by the apple-sorting machine and gave me a detailed account of its working.
I suspect she was born precocious. She was reading early and at four loved Laura Ingall Wilder’s Little House books, identifying deeply with Laura. When we went for kindergarten orientation the teacher begged us to stop her learning to read any more. Her first day at school she insisted on going into the yard by herself and instructing older kids in the finer points of ball-bouncing. She wasn’t used to kids: she only knew adoring adults. School wasn’t altogether a pleasure for her – but neither was home-schooling, when I unleashed my frustrated pedagogue on her: Latin and the history of Babylon for a nine year old? What was I thinking?
In high school she discovered community radio and independence. She found herself a substitute family in town and we rarely saw her. She often worked the graveyard shift; other nights she and a friend took a lemon meringue pie to the rocks along the river and picnicked. She rode the wild brumbies in the swamp by the Deua River; she added detergent to the town fountain; she wagged school; she made trips to Sydney on her own, prowling where I’d definitely fear to tread; she answered an HSC question on a book her class hadn’t even studied; and wrote an essay her teacher was still using as model for his students when I met him in my consultancy role fifteen years later.
Then she finished school. University or the wide wide world? She embarked on the picking life – grapes in Mildura, apples in Batlow – and began to travel as soon as she had the cash. England first, where she landed a job as nanny to a couple of posh kids whose parents had photos on the wall of themselves with members of the royal family. She made them costumes for the Christmas play and did all she could to subvert their class. There was trouble from the other parents when she went barefoot when it was her turn in the car pool. She hitched and made friends and found work and travelled more. She met her sister (then 15) in Bangkok and rode elephants and cleaned her teeth with depilatory. This became the pattern: work, and then travel. Lost, she camped in the mist near the Nepal border at election time, still so innocent that she thought the figures moving towards her were coming to show her the way. In fact they interrogated her for hours, suspecting that she was a Russian spy.
Back in Australia she began working and in North Queensland. The piglet she was raising disappeared near a crocodile’s mud-slide. When a relationship turned sour, she raced off through floodwaters in a car less reliable than the man, and ended up meeting Andrew, her best friend for many years, until he died unnecessarily and far too young and left her totally bereft.
She also met a Canadian, with whom she push-biked from Adelaide to Darwin, Macedonia to Poland, and in Zimbabwe. They were married in Canada, her dressed in black and high heels, with one of his mates as her “bridesmaid”, and a minister called Cecil B. Trotman officiating. After the wedding, husband and “bridesmaid” went off to watch an ice hockey match.
The marriage disintegrated, and she finally settled in a small village near Stanthorpe, and enrolled at University: the university she had early entry to in her last year at school. She chose the University of New England because she remembered deer in its parklands from a visit when she was 3 and J was studying there. Last year she finished her bachelors degree with an honours dissertation on the marginalization of seasonal workers in rural communities.
By the time she’d finished the degree, she was no longer a seasonal worker: she now uses her considerable knowledge of Stanthorpe as an employee at the tourist information centre, and front of house at one of the caravan parks. She’s an active campaigner for the Greens, and still holds it against us that we voted Labour in 2007. She shops at Vinnie’s and castigated me roundly once for spending 70c on a lemon squeezer there: when she wants something she lets it be known and gets a phone call from the volunteers when something likely comes in.
At last she has time (a little bit – her two part-time jobs somehow have her regularly working 14 days straight) for a social life and has earnt many times over the six weeks in Europe she is now enjoying.
This is a very partial biography, in both senses of the word. I obviously deeply admire my daughter, and this attempt at her life is limited by my selectivity: undoubtedly, she would frame her own life differently. It gave me great pleasure to write about her in the idiosyncratic home she has made for herself on the border between two states. I hope she feels I have done small justice to a remarkable woman.