My first memory is of my grandmother, a symbol perhaps of the important, inspiring and loving role she played in my life.
She came down to help my family when my little brother was born. I was three. We picked strawberries in the late spring sun and prepared them with sugar and cream under the dappled light in the kitchen, ready to take into hospital.
Her home, Darwin, has forever felt like a haven to me – probably because we always used to come up in winter, escaping Canberra’s cold. Our visits were always accompanied by treasures from Granny: my first bikini, a purple and pink stripy number lovingly handmade; a traditional Thai dress worn to pieces; expeditions to find green frogs and frill-necked lizards in the garden; drinking lime cordial while cooling off in the spa. These are some of the happiest memories of my childhood.
Granny was a renowned orchid grower, an avid golfer, and held multiple world records in Master’s swimming. Her special talents largely escaped me as I grew up – except of course for the vague knowledge that my Granny was somehow much more able than other people’s grandmothers, and she also went on TV, a novelty that I boasted about more than once in the playground.
I did know that Granny was always returning from elsewhere – Thailand, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Brazil. My understanding of these places earlier on was limited to the knowledge that the people there wore strange but quite beautiful pyjamas, as evidenced by the many presents she brought back for us. However, as I have grown up, and learnt more about not only Granny’s travels, but also her work with refugees and migrants here in Australia, I have grown to appreciate the precious rarity of people like my grandmother – not only willing to accept difference, but ready to actively embrace it, to immerse herself in it, and draw people in – to understand them, learn from them, and make them her friends.
My grandmother’s courage, her tolerance, her love of adventure – these are the attributes that I hope to have either inherited or learnt.
I think that as long as we, her fifteen grandchildren, step out into the world with an extended hand and a willingness to learn, her spirit will live on.