Having grown up with my great-grandparents who were fabulous story-tellers, I didn’t think I’d uncover anything in my family history that I didn’t already know. However, I came to uncover some remarkable stories about the women in my family and I thought it was no wonder that when women are seriously ill in my family the general reaction is “she’ll be right, we only breed Mallee bulls”.
My great-great-grandmother was always referred to as “Little Nan” (shown in the photo above). She was fairly tall for a woman at that time (about 175cm) but was crippled by tuberculosis in around 1900. She had gone from a tall striking woman to having a hunchback. Unfortunately this didn’t leave her with a long line of suitors so when my g-g-grandfather wrote her a perfunctory letter from South Africa saying “I need a wife, sail to Cape Town”, she took him up on his offer.
She gave birth to my g-grandfather in 1908 and the deformity to her spine increased dramtically. I can’t imagine the turmoil of giving birth to an 11lb baby in 1908 when your spine is so curved that instead of standing straight at 175cm you are now only 160cm tall!
Yet she never complained. She worked on the farms day and night, hunched over, in pain and when she died the autopsy revealed that none of her organs were where they were supposed to be. She would always say “the work needs to be done and I’m doing it”.
I wondered where she got her strength from but her mother was even tougher still. She didn’t understand what the fuss was about when she rode 8 months pregnant at full gallop through a snow blizzard in Gippsland in 1885 to get some ingredients for dinner. When she was 84yrs old she made the long journey from Bairnsdale to Kensington to make sure that my grandmother (her great-granddaughter) was being bathed correctly. She wasn’t and stayed for a month telling it like it is.
I think of them when I’m having a little whinge about work being stressful and remind myself how good I have it.