Immigration brought us here and I adore this place. I will never leave—I will be taken out in a box and scattered on Mount Taylor.
We emigrated from the UK in 1974, but I immigrated to the UK in 1971, so I’ve been away from the States since 1971. My husband got a job in Canberra and I came with him with our child. We had two more children after we got here. I’ve not wanted to leave. I will never live anywhere else. It’s a great place to have raised children and it’s a good place to be getting older. Friendship networks are easier here.
In the 1970s everyone would say, “Canberra’s a place with no soul,” and it was a struggle in the beginning.
Another struggle in the early days of living here was how people would ask, “what does your husband do?” Instead of, “what do you do?” You had to rely on who your husband was. I found that really difficult because my job was to stay home and look after my sons and that was important to me.
But now as an older person—God, I never thought I’d say that!—it’s not difficult to be woman in Canberra.
For many years I didn’t have a lot of female friends—I had brothers, I’ve got three sons and a husband, and I had a lot of male friends. In the last fifteen or twenty years I’ve become really close to women and I think Canberra made me realise the value and strength of women.
A lot of my friends are immigrants like me, from English speaking countries, so we’ve all had to struggle together. Through reaching out to other women in the same situation I’ve developed connections with lots of women in my own age group, who are now more sisters than friends.
This is probably the first time anyone’s ever asked me what it means to be a woman. I think to be a woman is to have a power that you can draw on—it’s always there, and you can draw on it at the deepest level when you need to.
But being a woman is also about being gentle, caring and understanding. Not that men aren’t that way, but it’s a different thing. I’ve never thought about this sort of stuff though—I let life go on and I’m who I am, and I don’t think about being a man or a woman or anything else.
My most favorite thing is my granddaughter—I only have one grandchild. She’s 13 and she’s turning into a really spectacular young person. She is the reason that I was put on this earth—to be her grandmother. I told her that the other day, it was the first time I’d ever told her that and it was wonderful.
My next favorite thing is my sewing, I’m a quilter. That just makes my world go round in lots of ways.
My third favorite thing is my garden, especially my veggie patch. I love getting out there and mucking around, getting all sweaty and hot and dirty, I just love it. It exhausts me, but I love it. When I found out that I couldn’t do my own gardening a few years ago I just sat and cried. So now my vegetable patches are all raised.
I would describe myself as tired but happy, and I feel together. I’m also frustrated because I can’t do what I want to do because of my physical limitations. I’m in pain, but that’s nothing new. I have a rare disease called Arachnoiditis, which is a disease in the spinal cord.
One of the hardest things about maintaining my health and wellbeing in Canberra is that I can’t find any specialists here who can look after me, so I have to go to Sydney.
I had over 30 operations, and six years ago I had quadriplegia and I spent six months in Royal North Shore Hospital because I didn’t have the base here to be looked after properly. I’m fused from the base of my skull to the base of my spine, so if something goes wrong with me I have to go to Sydney. Not having a doctor here who can help me understand and cope with this disease is really hard. Psychologically I’ve had good care from a psychologist; someone who’s helped me with pain management and coping. But then again the issue of pain management is also difficult, and I haven’t been able to access Canberra’s pain management system yet.
My perfect day in Canberra would be weather like today for a start—spring time—and being able to work in the garden without too much difficulty physically. I would start with a cup of coffee and breakfast in the morning and then catching up with a girlfriend for lunch out. On a day like today, going to Floriade or the Botanical Gardens or something like that. Just being in this beautiful place with beautiful friends.
Image created by Josey Carnovale