This post reflects on themes of love and acceptance and how we negotiate relationships during times of transition that have the potential to lead to division.
When asked her age, she always said she was as old as her tongue and a little older than her teeth. In fact, her teeth were the youngest part of her. Replaced every few years, one of her original denture boxes now houses a selection of the gemstones she left behind. The box has her handwritten note, labelled with the location where the stones came from, ‘Forest Range’.
Botox may be the modern-day equivalent of the taking out of teeth. A preventative, cosmetic exercise, anticipating a future of deteriorating enamel in the way we anticipate the loss of collagen. It is sobering to be reminded that there is not a time in recent generations in which women’s bodies are not subject to fashion and the opinions and interests of others.
Maybe in the 1930s, when my grandmother was having her teeth pulled, she imagined a future where women’s looks weren’t considered the most critical feature of their being. I never had the opportunity to talk to her about vanity, self-image, and their role in the construction of self-worth. I had not reached an age where their significance felt transitional in my life. The age I am now, where I look in the mirror and see my aunties’ faces reflected to me. Alongside these are features I do not recognise but must belong to the other side of my lineage. The side we have limited evidence of. The side that emerged strongly in the makings of my youngest son, his blond hair and blue eyes, defying the odds of his genetics.
In the way my mother marvels at my son’s blue eyes, eyes like hers, my grandmother was committed to finding the red in my hair to match her red hair, which I never saw but heard her speak of with pride. She also looked for her shape in mine, describing my legs as having ‘Granny’s thighs’. She had never considered herself a beauty, that much I know. But I thought she was beautiful, and I marvelled at her thick, wiry hair that was a barrier between her and the wearing of hats. Her hands were strong and agile, honed from years of knitting, gardening, and cooking. Her knuckles had swollen, and the wedding ring she wore for seventy years was permanently embedded in her skin.
I remember the amulets she wore, with a selection of her stones fashioned to fit delicate casings. Whenever I stayed at her house during the school holidays, I insisted upon her bringing down the boxes of rocks and jewels. As February babies, we shared amethyst as a birthstone, and this always felt special and unique to us. Granny had grown up close to the land, following her father through regional South Australia as he was posted to assume the role of town policeman. Her collection of stones was evidence of all the places she had been.
Granny always spoke of her father with admiration, and I can imagine in my mind’s eye her looking up from the front porch to watch his six-foot-four frame mount his horse to patrol the Mainstreet. My Granny’s views of Aboriginal people were shaped by the times when her father’s job included enforcing severely racist laws.
As we contemplate the Yes vote, I wonder how Granny and I would have negotiated this time. As a pious woman, she took a paternalist view of the welfare of Aboriginal people. She knitted beanies for families in Alice Springs, a town she had lived in early in her marriage. I remember her remarking about how cold it would get at night and how important it was to have a warm head. This preoccupation with being warm extended to her insistence that my siblings and I always wear singlets.
Loving people whose values or worldviews are inconsistent with yours is a peculiar dance. Granny admired John Howard and his good wife, Jeanette. As someone whose first crush was Bob Hawke, I knew we sat on different sides of politics. During my first social work placement, Howard’s government enforced the mandatory detention policy for asylum seekers. I met with men whose hunger strikes and sewn lips had brought them to the psychiatric ward where I worked.
I did not talk to Granny about our differences because preserving our relationship was my most important priority. I respected my Granny even though there was much we did not agree on.
There are people in my life now who will vote no in the Voice referendum, a decision I fundamentally disagree with. As a grown woman, can I bring acceptance to those relationships like I did when I was younger? Time will tell.
To get the facts on the Voice to Parliament, visit Yes 23 – for the past 250 years, we haven’t properly listened to the people who have been here for 65,000. This is our chance to fix that.