Forgotten Australians, memories

For Violet

by Janice Konstantinidis (guest author) on 16 November, 2011

Janice Konstantinidis was an inmate in Mount Saint Canice, Sandy Bay, Tasmania, where she worked as an unpaid child labourer in the Good Shepherd Sisters’ commercial laundry. Janice now lives in California in USA. Here she shares her writing about her paternal grandmother.

For Violet: The Franklin River

The frost has settled hard on the grass. It was a cold clear night and the moonlight lay flat across the absolute calm of the river. The woman lay still.

It had not always been like this, winds had blown across her face as she sat in the sidecar of the bike. The rain had long since taken care of whatever attempt she had made of doing her hair. The woman had made this trip once before to meet her future mother in law, now she was making it as a bride.

They lay together in the calm of the night; there was nothing to hear, nothing to connect them physically, or her to anything or anyone.

Many times she would travel the distant road near the river. As a young woman she would travel close to the river. When she first began her journeys to her new home she was filled with both hope and sadness. She hoped for a good life for herself and unborn child. This was not how things were to be.

Trips to the city were made over the following years. After the side car there came a car, but she would not drive it. “Women shouldn’t drive cars,” she would say. “They are too easily distracted”. By the time her granddaughter tried to teach her she was too stiff with arthritic pain. By this time she wished she had never travelled the road at all.

The road changed with time, from gravel and dirt to seal. From the bike to the best of cars. The young woman to an elderly woman who took very little interest in the passing scenery beside the river as she travelled.

The woman and the river had a long acquaintance. Two children were born and the trips to the city continued. Initially the trips were for practical reasons. Twice they led to return to her home in and family in Victoria. These times she took her children. Once was to bury her mother. She would always return. It was trip down in to the remote country and a trip to the more immediate pain of isolation.

Her marriage was not happy. Her children were not overly nice, in fact her son was an alcoholic, irresponsible and cruel. This made her torment worse. Her daughter left home at seventeen, making her own journey past the river in a frenzy of excitement as she attempted to find a better life.

The woman was sad. The years of toil had left her comfortable but trapped. By this time her son had beaten his wife half to death and she had run off. The woman had taken her grandchild in but resented her. Her husband had a lover. This had happened some years after he married, perhaps thirty. The woman was never certain. This added to her despair.

The trips to the city became fewer and in the end were only made to go to places like the hospital or by sheer force of necessity.

The grandchild grew and became “too much” for he woman and it was decided that she should be placed in a home with the nuns. The child was not happy and the woman probably more so.

Her daughter would visit over the years with her growing family of three. The woman would wait hungrily for these visits and letters. All this activity passed by the river.

The river had been there a long time. The river saw all the comings and goings. The changes from starting out – to prosperity. The children who travelled, the grandchild who travelled. They all eventually left to live their lives, each experiencing the river individually. Perhaps the river should tell its version; it had seen the whole tragedy unwind.

The woman’s encounter with it was yet anther variable in it existence.

As she lay in the stillness of the night, she felt no pain. Her husband lay with her and they said nothing. Nothing could be known of the windswept young bride, or the tortured woman. What could be known were their names and their respective dates of death on their combined headstone.