We’ve been sitting at the kitchen table looking over old family photos. My mother was never one to talk about or delve into the past. A conversation with an old friend, (they’d met in a refugee camp and came out to Australia on the same ship after The War), the subject of their youth came up.
My mother became visibly emotional, “What youth, I was robbed of my youth. There was the War and then there were those years after the War. I didn’t get to enjoy my youth.”
I recently asked her about a battered old silver knife, part of a set I remember from my childhood-the odd fork and knife are still being used.
“You’ve had these for years mum.”
“I got them in Germany.” She replied
She’d been in a displaced person’s camp in Germany in 1950 before sailing to Australia and I couldn’t fathom how she came across a set of silver cutlery.
“ I traded a fur for them.”
“ What were you doing with a fur coat in a refugee camp?”
“ It wasn’t a coat, just a fur collar.”
“ Who gave it to you ?”
She told me she couldn’t remember but I was struck by her resourcefulness and canniness. A fur collar coat would have raised a few eyebrows in amongst Europe’s ‘flotsam jetsam’ at Bonegilla in 1950 but a set of silver cutlery was far more practical for starting a new life in Post War Australia.
Her mother died of tuberculosis when she was 8. She was forced to stop her schooling to help around the farm-her family were sharecroppers. Her father was left to raise 6 small children and couldn’t cope.
He ended up hanging himself and the siblings were farmed out to aunts, and the youngest to an orphanage.
I understand why she never liked talking about The Past.