My Dad was born in 1913. The eldest son of five children living in the tiny lakeside township of Dora Creek, ninety minutes, by today’s travelling standards, north of Sydney. They lived in a slab hut. A dirt floor, hessian walls, no electricity, no sewerage, no running water, no refrigeration, not much of anything, except an open fire to cook on, keeping them warm and lighting the darkness.
My grandparents met in Sydney, in 1909, both employed ‘in service’. My Grandma a housemaid, my Grandpa a livery man at the very swank, Elizabeth Bay House. They were married in 1910 in Glebe an inner Sydney suburb, how and why they went to Dora Creek is baffling.
Dad’s father was an itinerant sign writer. He painted scenery and backdrops for theatrical and travelling shows. I suspect there were no theatres, shops or signs to be painted in the backblocks of scrubby Dora Creek.
My Grandma had a child every 2 years for 10 years. Can you imagine what that must have been like, in such poverty?
By the 1920s the family had moved to Sydney. Grandpa was sign writing. My Dad remembers the wooden paint case, full of brushes and paints his Dad carried. How his Dad did the first gold leaf sign on the window of the Botany Bay Hotel and how his Dad hawked his skills, painting Easter, Christmas and specials signs on butcher and chemist shop windows.
They’d lived in a rented a shop and residnece in Botany, right next door to the Botany Bay Hotel. Grandma baked and sold pies, in saucers … saucers were plentiful, cups and their handles always broke first.
On the weekends my Dad would go to the markets with his Dad. One precious pound was all the money they took to stock the shop with fruit and vegetables for the week. Dad said there was never any money.
My Dad was a lanky, larrikin who detested school and lived to fish. He kept the family in fish, oysters, crabs ... the food of the sea.
Grandpa died in 1932 from Tuberculosis. Grandma still baked pies in her wood oven and ran her shop … there’s much more to the story of this marvellous woman. We were born under the same star sign, she demonstrated an ability to make something out of nothing, she was a talented embroiderer, she lived a healthy life, she never remarried, she was a gentle woman, a survivor.
Is empowerment hereditary, is it genetic or is it learned behaviour?
Many women, no matter their beginnings, have survived with a natural ability to project power and authority, to hold home and hearth together despite … has such ability come naturally? Many women have used it wisely many women are still seeking empowerment.
Stories of my ancestral women empower me to be proud, to be positive, to know what a fortunate, wonderful, talented woman I am ... and to commit that my girls know the stories of their ancestral women too – that’s empowerment … isn’t it?