To all the girls before and after.

We are about to have International Women’s Day for 2020. It is a much spoken of day bringing up issues of feminism, equal opportunity, women’s safety …. what it is to be a woman of our era. I consider myself very much a woman of my time. I have had an excellent education and continue to pursue further education even now. I have experienced a solid full time career, I am divorced and I am financially independent. With all the trials and tribulations life has thrown in my direction to this point; I have enjoyed advantages and freedoms many women of previous generations never even dreamed of.

It makes me think about the women who came before me in my family. Their hopes, dreams, aspirations and histories. Who were they really? What did they actually think? What would they have to say if they were here now to see how far we have come.

And how far we have yet to go.

My maternal grandmother Beatrice. Photographed in 1918.

I know surprisingly little in many ways about the women who have been my immediate predecessors. My grandmother married my grandfather after he returned from WW1. He was a gentle soul who served at Gallipoli and had given his promise to her before he joined up. Beatrice is remembered as an angry, unstable and rather cruel woman who subsequently had two daughters born 13 years apart. Yvonne in 1919 and my mother Geanette in 1932. By the time she appears in my conscious memory Beatrice is a very old lady in a recliner with advanced dementia. My grandmother passed away when I was fourteen. Because of her lifelong mental health issues I knew nothing of her personal history. She is remembered simply as a wife to a kind man and as a mother of two; who determinedly kept one daughter at home with her (whilst the younger was eventually permitted to marry).

Beatrice with eldest daughter Yvonne, circa 1926.

Yet surely Beatrice was more than that. She would have once been a young girl with her life ahead of her. Was she always destined for a prison of mental illness? Or would a modern world have given her opportunity to address her demons. Was she frustrated by a society where her mind was not used to its full potential? The book of Beatrice’s life may have been a very different novel a mere two generations on. My grandmother, for all her grisly attributes, doubtless had talents and intelligence that went unseen and untapped.

As was to be glimpsed in her second baby who went on to be my own mother.

My mother Geanette, born in 1932.

Whilst the older sister was a quiet and obedient girl who lived to pacify her volatile mother; Geanette was wilful and intelligent. She also displayed some of the same unstable attributes as Beatrice.

Yet again, what do I really know of these two sisters a mere generation before my own? Yvonne fell in love with a young man whom she met at a dance. He was Catholic and wanted to marry her. His religion made him wildly undesirable as a family member; although she quietly accepted his proposal. Snippets I have learned indicate he was vocal that things in the household were not as they should be. The man she loved was to finally walk away from the situation as it was impossible. Yvonne could not abandon her baby sister to her mother’s cruelty and she was mercilessly brow beaten until she broke off the engagement. I do not even know her fiancee’s name. One wonders how my aunt processed the fact a man she wished to marry gave her up. Yvonne never entered the workforce or met anyone else. She nursed both my grandparents until their deaths in the 1980’s and passed away in 2003 alone and still in the family home.

Who was Yvonne really? She is a single generation before my own and I have no real clue. An obedient daughter, a loyal sibling, a woman with very little education. We will never glean Yvonne’s true persona or potential. It went undiscovered at a time when what she wanted out of life was not part of the equation.

My own mother did well at school, but exited with a Leaver’s Certificate as was expected with girls of her generation. It is my understanding she was nearly dux of her year. She went on to secretarial school and topped the state in shorthand, before taking a job at the radio station where she was to meet my father. They began dating aged 23 but they did not marry until she was nearly 29. She was reluctant to marry and Beatrice fought to keep her at home. These family facts that I have known all my life take on a different perspective as I age.

Mum liked to act in amateur theatre, she studied piano, she liked her job and she wasn’t keen to walk down an aisle. These freedoms came at the cost of her sister’s continued subservience to their mother. By the time she married my father, Geanette was already displaying the signs of mental illness that were to ravage much of her later life. She gave birth to me aged 36 and her persona quickly spiralled into a vortex of depression, anxiety and frustration. Just one generation ago vital help was simply not there. Not there for my mother and not there for me either as her young daughter. Mum worked sporadically after my birth, but the wisdom of age and hindsight show me a woman with a bright mind who was incredibly bored and very unwell. There were no available tools to address either issue. She was a wife, she was a mother, she had a husband in the workforce, she cooked and cleaned and that was just how it was.


With each generation comes incremental change. I went on to finish high school, get a University degree and create the life of a more modern woman. I surmise that my mother lived vicariously through the opportunities made available to me in a variety of ways. Not all of them healthy …. she was often transparently resentful. That aside, one wonders who Geanette (with her evident intellect) would have really become with the stimulation of a tertiary education and a satisfying career.


I am grateful I was born into my own generation and not that of my grandmother or her daughters. It is unfortunate my own path has been somewhat derailed by a marriage that was not what it should have been. Despite that massive speed hump, I have my education and a burgeoning understanding of what I want to be. What I want to achieve to take me into my next chapter.

As women we are on the cusp of change. Readying ourselves and our younger counterparts to fight a perilous battle for what we deserve. What we want is not greedy nor should it be insurmountable. A wish to reach our full potential in a world where we are free to live safely and control our circumstances. As we once fought for the vote, accessible contraception and education; we now fight for the kind of equality that makes us truly create our own destiny. For some of our sisters in other cultures, the old battles are only just beginning. We are forging a path for them as well as ourselves.

Many men want what is best for the women they love. Their mothers, aunts, sisters, wives, daughters and friends. In troubled times, as we begin to address the abuse and mistreatment of women, we know so many good men who have our backs. International Women’s Day isn’t solely for the sisterhood. It’s for everyone invested in the future of women in our society. Simply looking back over two generations of my own line shows the incredible potential for rapid change.

To Beatrice, Yvonne and to my mother Geanette. I wish you might have enjoyed lives with many more keys to unlock your potential. To the girls to come after my own time line I would say …… imagine how it can be. Know your worth. Know your strength. We’ve already come so far.

Make it happen. xxx

Yvonne Butcher (1919 – 2003)
Geanette (Butcher) Benger (1932 – 2017)

Mother Love

Two years ago I farewelled my mum. She was 85 years old and had suddenly been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She passed away about 6 weeks after they found the tumour. In hindsight the situation was hopeless; but she dutifully underwent chemotherapy and died four days after her second treatment. In many ways it was a merciful death. She did quite well and then suffered a horrible 48 hours before lapsing into unconsciousness and slipping away. I made it to the hospital before she passed (as I live in another capital city). Although she seemed deeply asleep, nurses told me they saw indications she was aware of my presence through her breathing. Having arrived mid afternoon, I sat by her side for a couple of hours and told her I would be back at 7.30pm to be with her through the night. I still had my suitcase with me from my hurriedly undertaken flight and also hadn’t eaten….. the nurses advised me to have some tea and return for what could be the first of several nights like this.

At 7.00pm, as I prepared to leave my hotel room and head the short distance to the hospital, my phone rang. It was a nurse telling me mum had suddenly begun to decline and I should probably get my skates on. I raced into the ward at 7.20pm to be greeted by a closed door with a kindly nurse standing next to it waiting for me. My mother had passed away at 7.10pm. I had the task of ringing my father to tell him she had now gone. The nursing staff were kind, respectful and expert. To them I am sure I was just another relative farewelling an elderly cancer patient. There are things you remember from life events such as this, and I will always remember their compassion. In particular the nurse who took my hand and said my mother had probably waited for my arrival and then happily let go knowing I was there. Romanticised theory or not, those are the things that are steadying at the time. Her tired, gentle face searching out mine as I ran down the corridor to my mother’s hospital room is forever etched in my memories of that night.

Mum aged sixteen.

What would be lovely to read after the description of how she left would be a narrative of a happy life filled with tales of joyful times. A deep mother daughter bond that concluded as I rushed to her side. Having a slight writing bent, I could probably drum that up from the memories I have in my head. There were happy family times in her life journey. Fact and fiction can mingle when we sit down to tap out a piece such as this. However, I would like to write something respectful to my mother that is based in reality. A reality that can be discussed still under the umbrella of filial love.

My mother had many grand qualities. She had physical beauty. Something of which I was aware, but has become more apparent to me now I have access to all the images of her life housed in photo albums in the family home. She was a head turner. The day my dad saw her at her first job interview at the radio station where he worked (and where she was subsequently to work) he watched her walk down the corridor and famously declared “I’m going to marry her”. He was punching above his weight, but he stuck with it with a determination surprising from one so timid. Neither of my parents sprang from particularly happy homes, so he probably couldn’t rationalise he may have been making an error in romantic judgement. It took nearly a decade for him get her down the aisle and the patience of Job. Dad had set his heart on being with her and they married in 1960. I didn’t come along for quite an extended period of time, seen as extraordinary for their generation. Since mum passed away dad has stated it was a “surprise” when I was born. That’s best left as a dormant story I think for everyone, including me……..

My mother was intelligent. She was also quite a competent comic actress. With a wisdom I seem only to have acquired since her death, I realise she was in fact extremely smart and the owner of a frustrated mind. As a modern woman, my mother would have had a university education and turned her frustration into a career befitting her IQ. Instead she did her leaver’s certificate, topped the state in short hand and subsequently worked in an office in an inferior position as suited to her gender. When I came along, she was a stay at home mother to one small child and bored out of her mind. She needed a career, and in the absence of any other mental or emotional stimulation her career became me.

My mother loved animals and abhorred animal cruelty. She grew up in a cat, Pomeranian and Pekingese laden house. Her own mother was obsessed with both breeds and had armies of them. Family photographs always had someone holding a dog or several cats perched on a table in the background. Oddly, my mother had a cat (gifted to her by her mother) when first married which was run over. She was so distraught she never had another pet and would allow me none. I begged and pleaded but she wouldn’t relent. She would never explain why. Near the end of her life she confessed she’d never go through that grief ever again. Something I can quite understand, solving the puzzle of her angry refusal to allow me any fur companions. She could also type fast, sew dresses, play the piano and be very, very funny when the mood took her. And there is the key word. Mood.

My rather beautiful, intelligent, animal loving, amateur theatrical, fast typing, piano playing mother was a terrifying individual because our home lived in fear of her mood. Of her displeasure. Of her irrationality. Of her anger. Of her inherent instability. Of her paranoia. She was my world and it was was not a safe world in which to live. My mother was very, very mentally unwell. In an era where to be so had stigma – and help was simply not there.

Mum and dad in 1985.

The precise history between mum and me is not fodder for this article. That would be inappropriate and is not its purpose. Suffice to say my childhood was not ideal, and young adult me was naturally shaped by childhood me who had a bit of a bumpy ride. Hence, young adult me was rather a hot mess and very vulnerable. I spent years unravelling what the hell actually happened. I was a guilt riddled woman child and a bit cheesed off at the family package I’d been delivered into. That took a while to work through.

Extricating myself from the family legacy came at a cost and I was estranged from my parents for some years. That estrangement ended unexpectedly, and whilst the relationship remained delicate and safely distant; some ten years after we reconnected I found myself at my mother’s bedside as she ebbed away. Nothing had ever been resolved. It was more a respectful truce offered on the grounds the past was not addressed. At the time it felt rather hypocritical. Two years after mum has gone I have come to a place where I understand a little more of who she was. The resentment I once carried is replaced with a certain empathy for her ….and a regret she was not a woman born into different times. I can see her positives as well as the overwhelming negatives that formed her persona.

They say to forgive for yourself and not for the person who has wronged you. I am undecided if ‘forgiveness’ is the correct word. Some of what my mother did along the way cannot be ‘forgiven’ – but it can be understood. My last words to my mother as I left her room on August 16, 2017 were that I would be back. That she had my promise I would care for my father and that I loved her. The last one was difficult because I couldn’t even tell if it was true. But I wanted her to have it, to take with her if she could hear me in her final hours. Love can be difficult to categorise.

My mother’s last trip to Sydney in October 2016 to see me in a stage production.

Before I left the hospital after she had died, I went into the room to say a last goodbye. It was a strange couple of minutes. The story seemed incomplete somehow without that final step. Ours had been such a tumultuous story and so painful. It was a chance to create an enduring, peaceful memory.

For many years I rejected any similarity between my mother and myself. I would emphatically declare I was only like my father. Unless I’m missing something, I appear to have dodged the mental demons that plagued mum her entire life; for that I am forever grateful. I am now the age she was when I begin to remember her the most vividly. Oddly enough, I begin to see little bits of her in my equivalent self. In a photograph, a quick flash in a mirror, a turn of phrase, a gesture. In my love for my little dogs. Instead of rejecting that I choose to embrace it. I will never have the equivalent of her physical beauty, but I am grateful for whatever of that she gifted me. Any of her intelligence and any of her positive qualities that wound up in my genetic cocktail. Our parents can never be erased. Accepting that seems to be a part of understanding myself.

In the hospital room on that final night I knew what I needed to say.

“You did the best with what you had, and I forgive you. Go in peace”.

Did her spirit hear me? I don’t know. I like to think it did.

Remembering my mother Geanette Benger. 13.2.32 – 16.8.17.