Daily Archives: January 19, 2009

‘Hazel’s Journey’ by Sue Pieters-Hawke

hazel

2004, 306p.

At the moment, I am wary of books written by children about their parents’ struggle with Alzheimers.  Increasingly, I know, I will find myself identifying with them more and more because someone very close to me has Alzheimers.

I picked up this book in a bookshop while I was down at the beach, and put it down again.  But when someone who knows my family-member offered it to me, with some trepidation, I accepted her offer and settled down to read it.

Hazel Hawke is the ex-wife of Bob Hawke, the former prime minister.  In Australia, we don’t particularly think in terms of “first ladies” as such, but the Prime Minister’s wife often escorts her husband on official occasions and acts as patron to charities and causes close to her own heart.  Prime Minister Bob Hawke was a flamboyant, emotional larrikin. Although he always acted with propriety while Prime Minister, his past of alcohol and womanizing always seemed close to the surface.  You always sensed that he would be a challenging man to live with.  When the marriage broke up after he was no longer Prime Minister, Hazel kept her silence and her dignity.

When reading this book, I was reminded of the deep affection I have for Hazel Hawke.  She earned it through her own intelligence and interests, her strong advocacy of abortion rights, and although I’m sure she didn’t wish it this way, her resilience after her marriage breakdown was a model for the many others in similar situations.

In 2003, she and her daughters revealed on the ABC television program Australian Story that she was suffering with Alzheimers, or ‘The Big A’ as she called it.   I watched the show with a mixture of admiration for her courage and selflessness in so publicly aligning herself with such a silencing, stigmatized illness, and a feeling of dread that I was watching what will, inevitably, also be my fate as daughter.

To be honest, the tone of this book really annoyed me.  It was like listening to someone affecting a rather forced cheerfulness,  full of platitudes, and talking too much.  If it’s beautiful writing you’re after, then Sue Miller’s book The Story of My Father is far superior.  But both these books are not really about the writing and  they’re not only about the father or mother whose stories they are telling.  What they are both about is grief, loss and being a parent to one’s parent.

This book reminded me that, in spite of the loss of planning abilities, routines and conversation, it is the emotions that remain.  As someone who loves them, it is the emotions that matter and emotions that we need to respond to.

On the road from Heidelberg

From the Port Phillip Herald 6 Dec 1842

BLACK OUTRAGE. As a woman was coming to town the other day from Heidelberg, carrying a bundle in her hand, she was met by two black lubras, who attempting to take the bundle from her, the woman screamed out for assistance, whereupon she received a severe blow over the temples with a waddy, and the two blacks made off.  She complained of the assault at the police office, but no redress could be afforded, as she declared she could not identify the offenders.

Heidelberg was about seven miles out from the centre of Melbourne, but generally viewed as being ‘in the country’.   There was a road out to Heidelberg by this time built from donations and public subscription lists by the Heidelberg Road Trust , representing the interests of  the gentlemen who lived there (Judge Willis himself, Verner, the Boldens, Wills, Porter etc).  Heidelberg Since 1836 describes the route as:

…an extension of the great Heidelberg Road, which commenced in present day Smith Street Collingwood, winding through the Edinburgh Gardens and then crossing a ford in the Merri Creek.  The track to the village was approximately along the present Heidelberg Road, along Upper Heidelberg Road, and then branched off down to the village from the top of the hill at Heidelberg.  The road continued on along the ridge of the hill, down to the Lower Plenty and then on to the Upper Yarra.  (p. 12)

heidelbergroad1

By 1842, over 500 pounds of local money had been spent on the road, and log bridges were built at the Darebin Creek and the Plenty River.  Late in 1842 the Government paid the wages of unemployed labourers to clear stones and stumps from the road.  From 1845, as a result of the deterioration of the road, a levy was placed on landowners and a toll was established.

Not that our “woman” (note- not a lady) would necessarily be using the road.  I’m astounded by the distances that even ladies would walk- Georgiana McCrae seemed to think nothing of walking across the paddocks into the city from her house ‘Mayfield’ near the corner of present-day Church and Victoria Streets Abbotsford.  Abbotsford is of course much closer to the city than Heidelberg, but even a lady of one of the most prominent families in Melbourne would be prepared to hoof it through the bush.

This is also a reminder that the “blacks” were not only up-country but relatively close to Melbourne .  In fact, there are fleeting mentions of aboriginal people still visible on the streets of Melbourne itself.  I’m not sure what the significance is- if any- of these two women accosting another woman. Would they, I wonder, have approached a man, who was more likely to defend himself?

References:

C. Cummins Heidelberg Since 1836: A Pictorial History.