IT’S about 10 years ago now since we received a heart-wrenching phone call from Teresa to say that her husband, Ralph, had just died. Teresa and Ralph lived up the road from us in Archies Creek. We raced up the hill to offer what support we could and found Teresa alone in the house with her husband and her four boys at each corner of her garden dealing with their grief alone. It was so terribly sad that I have tears in my eyes now as I write this.
After the initial shock, Matt, my husband was honoured to be asked to deliver the eulogy. Of course his first task was to gather information about Ralph. He went straight to Ralph’s sons, only to find that they had very few stories to tell. Ralph was a very measured, Italian man and not given to expressing emotion. Only recently retired, he was going to live a good many years yet. Plenty of time to find out more about their father. And then there wasn’t.
Matt delved a bit more, and was able to give this wonderful man a fitting eulogy, but from that sad experience I was inspired to gather the tales of the people in Archies Creek. I was frightened that we would lose so much of our history when others like Ralph left us. It was an absolute joy to speak with people and to hear little-known facts about them and to reveal the unknown linkages between them. I was able to write a book, A Matter of Complete Embuggerance, and even had it printed, because in these days of self-publishing anything is possible. (One more for the hill: Liane Arno's story of Ralph)
I recently found a project that speaks to the same urge that I had to record the stories of the people around me.
Although journalist and author Sandy Guy moved to Wonthaggi only recently, she and her partner Peter grew up in South Gippsland, and after more than 40 years have returned to their old stamping ground.
Sandy has worked as a freelance journalist for more than 25 years, and has contributed to more than 100 national and international publications. A love of travel means she has combined her work with journeying to far-flung places over the years.
Sandy's other passion (aside from cooking) is history, which she studied at a tertiary level. “Nothing makes me happier than to write a story that combines travel, history and food,” she laughs.
Family history has been an interest since the early 1990s when she was living in England and “stumbled” across a fascinating ancestor: a peer of the realm who had his head removed for treason back in 1462.
More recently Sandy discovered that her paternal grandmother lived a life of lies, changing her name and birthplace and dropping her age by four years in order to marry Sandy's grandfather, who was of a different religion. “My grandfather never knew about the hoax, nor did their children. My grandmother took her secrets and lies to the grave when she died in 1980, and there they stayed until I found her out a few years ago.”
Sandy believes that preserving family stories for future generations is something we can all have a go at. “I'd give anything to spend an hour with both my grandmothers, to learn more about their parents and grandparents, their childhoods, their lives. Because once they are gone, their stories are gone forever.”
With this in mind, Sandy is running a course at Wonthaggi's Mitchell House to inspire people to start recording reminiscences and stories, with the idea of creating a family story for younger and future generations. “Twenty-first century technology means we can self-publish a book that can include scanned photos, creating a permanent record of our younger years, older family members, family yarns, immigration stories, houses – anything we like.”
“The Story of Your Life” will run weekly over six weeks. The cost is $90 for members and $114 for non-members. If you are interested in knowing more, contact Mitchell House on 5672 3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org.