Above is a photo of my grandmother as a young woman, sometime in the late 1930s (or perhaps early 40s), captured by a roving street photographer in Adelaide. I love the slightly surprised, somewhat reproachful look on her face. I love her clothes, her shoes, her hat and gloves, that handbag and the way she carries it. I love that I do not know what she was like when this photo was taken and that she had a long history before I came along. I love that she was young, and beautiful, and stylish and sassy. I wish I knew what perfume she wore – Vol de Nuit, Shocking, Tabu, Joy? – but sadly I don’t.
Fast-forward forty years, more or less, and I enter the equation. My Granny, as I call her, lives in a little house with my Papa, in a tiny beachside town in South Australia. It’s a long drive to Granny’s house from where we live, and we’re always welcomed at the back door with hearty greetings and warm hugs. Granny is a wonderful cook and always makes lunch or afternoon tea when we visit. The house smells of pasties and biscuits, the occasional lamb roast, vegetable soup, cups of tea.
The biscuits all have exciting names: Ricky Annes, Burnt Butter Biscuits and “Sharfs”, so named by a young cousin because of the “sharp” bumps on the biscuits made with a fork prior to baking. Sharf biscuits are a bit like a melting-moment, but truth be told, there is nothing else like them. They melt on my tongue while the aromas of powdery icing sugar, margarine and custard powder hit my nostrils. I could eat them all day.
Granny is cuddly and warm and loving. We walk to the beach in summer across vacant house blocks and paddocks. The sea smells salty and fresh. The sky is a piercing blue, the sun brightly fierce and hot. Granny is in her skirted swimsuit, wading out into the water. I sit in the wet sand drinking fizzy-sweet Fanta out of a bright blue anodised aluminium cup, watching her. It’s so calm, so quiet and peaceful here.
These days are long gone. Granny was the archetypal grandmother of yesteryear: loving, domestic, enthusiastic, nurturing and caring. With Granny, I always knew I was loved: no ifs, no buts, no conditions. She was the epitome of traditional womanhood and femininity: traits that we should cherish more in a society that values public over private (i.e. domestic) achievements. Love, nurturing and caring are the things that keep us whole, keep us together and intact mentally and spiritually. On International Women’s Day 2016, I want to pay tribute to my Granny Kathleen, who was a masterful caregiver and whose loss is still keenly felt by many.
When Granny was diagnosed with cancer fifteen years ago, I was devastated. Her death turned my life inside out and I was forced to grow and develop in new ways. The year Granny got sick I created a piece of electroacoustic music to honour her life and character and what she meant to me. The piece, called Matrix, was to be an installation and was based on the structure of a crocheted “granny” rug she had made for me. It also included passages of text from her Sharf Biscuit recipe and a card she wrote to me when I was unwell as a small child. Matrix was one of the first feminist compositions I created, a style that I went on to cultivate and develop much further in the following years.
Matrix was never performed or installed, but in 2014, I created a tiny, one-minute version of it (using the original sound files) for a concert in Melbourne, and I’d like to share that with you today. I hope it offers a tiny glimpse into the rich, sensory world of my childhood experiences with my wonderful Granny. I named the piece Lots of Love, Gran.