The house near Darjeeling where Mum was born looked out to the west across a deep valley. In the valley, tea bushes could be seen. Above the horizon hung the snowcapped mountain range at the end of the Himalayas called Kanchenjunga. Its five peaks are regarded by the local Tibetan Buddhists as five treasure houses.
Mum left us with five treasure houses of her own.
1 – Music
Particularly polyphonic piano music; Bach and jazz . The piano was her great escape and relaxation and one of her most enjoyable activities in later life was teaching the piano. The breadth of her interests is illustrated in her musical choices. Jo Dunbar, Mum’s mate from her days in the Women’s Australian Auxiliary Airforce (WAAAF) regarded Song of India and the Warsaw Concerto as significant pieces in the intersection of their lives. Mum may not have admired the music but appreciated the link which it brought.
2 – Her WAAAF experience
Mum’s time in the WAAAF was a short but significant experience during WWII. She was a member of the pioneer radar group which played a significant part in the Australian war effort. She found the variety of people she met expansive and satisfying. She built the resolve to identify with ‘real people’ – with or without faults. This may also have been where she developed the ‘military abuse’ style of communication – a thump to the left shoulder and a swift kick in the posterior being memorable expression of her affection. The WAAAF allowed Mum to get to know Australia and Australians outside her family – it was her opportunity to develop the next treasure house.
3 – Independence
This she valued highly. She was not trapped by anyone’s conventions and resisted all control. She had been at the University of Melbourne when it was not common for women to be there. She was an early feminine feminist, quietly stubborn, and a brave uncomplaining fighter. She believed in an Australian republic and ‘de-Britified’ flag when many of her generation and background – and indeed her family - would strongly hold the opposite conviction.
4 – Youthful Intellect
Head over heart. Always interested in new thoughts, Mum sought the ‘plain hard facts’. In matters of religion and philosophy, she was not interested in ideology or dogmatism – these being restrictions to both independence and intellect. Her approach was ‘no bull…dust’ (I think or something similar). She understood that life is full of unresolvable paradoxes and could comfortably live with those.
5 – The Bengal Tiger
The tiger is her lasting symbol – not the Sher Khan of Kipling though. A more stylish symbol: the bold black, yellow, orange and white. Consider the tiger’s regal inscrutability. Moving quietly with strength and conviction. Blending with the environment and though unseen never lost.
Adapted from my eulogy for her delivered 29 December 1997