gillpolack (gillpolack) wrote,

Women's History Month: Alyson Hill

My sister and I come from a long line of extraordinarily ordinary women. Well, that’s what they’d all have you believe anyway and is, most likely, what they all believed as well. But the women in our family are tough old birds and marvellous at keeping secrets - they are collectively the antithesis of Drama-Queens. In their small town histories, it was important that anything out of the ordinary was brushed under the carpet, locked in the closet or stuffed under the mattress. I know this now, because I remember when eavesdropping on particularly interesting chat, I would inevitably hear that “The Walls have ears..” and then chat would stop abruptly or change to the color of the knee-rug that Aunty Gwen was crocheting.

Once I became a girl of a ‘certain age’ (i.e. pregnant) the walls no longer had ears when I was around, and it was then I discovered more about the blood that ran through my veins through tidbits and stories given in agonisingly brief details. I learned to corner the story-teller at a later stage and tease more interesting bits out slowly and casually to get a proper story, but the imagined shame of scandal always weighed heavily on my Aunts and Nan. And so it was that I discovered the convict ancestor sent to Sydney for murder: she’d been out walking with a companion (boyfriend) when a man jumped out of the bushes and bashed her companion with a plank (he died), she very quickly twisted a rock in her hanky and hurled it slingshot-style at the attacker, it hit him on the head and he died some days later!

There was a Great-Great-Great Tyrant Grandfather who had a harem of women: his wife, her sister and a couple of Indigenous women who had moved in as Nannies. The resulting baker’s dozen children were brought up altogether and only two birth certificates were ever recorded.

Nan once walked next door and decked her neighbour ‘once and for all’ as she was sick of him coming home drunk and belting his wife. And once I asked if Bushranger Ben Hall was any relation to Granny Hall - the silence was suffocating and the looks could have cut glass! The lives of the women in my family, retrospectively, were better than soap operas to me but my female relatives showed great disdain for my fascination. They valued the good, the shiny, the new and couldn’t understood how wonderful their crazed glazed lives were to me.

It’s only now - with the passing of so many of our elders, that I get secret letters from my Aunt with all the details I longed for. She still thinks she is an ordinary woman but she recognises my love of stories, and I seemed to have passed some secret test, so she would like me to know ‘our family’: a ‘perfectly normal, ordinary family, though there may have been some nuts’. What I learned from these women, is how important it is to look behind the curtain; there is no ordinary.

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