How To Have A Happy Relationship
Norma Player, 93
Wally and I were both 19 when we met. After work I’d been helping out in a Hyde Park [Sydney] canteen that gave servicemen free meals. The best part was that once dinner had been served, everyone would spend the rest of the evening dancing. I spent one particular night twirling with a handsome English naval officer. He asked if he could accompany me home, and I agreed, so he caught the train with me back to Summer Hill. At my door, he shook my hand and thanked me for a lovely night. He didn’t even try for a kiss! Well, that really impressed me. After that we fell in love quickly, but at the back of our minds was the knowledge that one day soon he’d have to return to the United Kingdom. I didn’t think much of it when I suggested he take his discharge out here and stay in Australia. But the next day, I looked up to find Wally in
my office. He’d spoken to his superior and was allowed to stay, as long as we were married within six weeks. I borrowed a friend’s wedding dress because we had clothing rations, (that same dress was worn by five different women over the years!), and we tied the knot on December 29, 1945. Even so, we ended up having to move to London [for] 15 months before settling in Australia. We had three beautiful children, and Wally and I had been married just two months short of 70 years before he passed away in 2015. It sounds like a long time but I wish it’d been longer. Of course we had disagreements, but my advice would be to work through any arguments calmly, and without worrying about who is to blame. Marriage isn’t about winning, or one-upping your partner. Forget the game-playing, and allow yourself to be a bit vulnerable.
It’s so important to let each other know how much you care for one another – because deep down that’s what we all want, isn’t it? To feel loved and appreciated and special? At the end of the day, that swept-off-your-feet feeling might not last forever, but the friendship and kindness underneath it will.
How To Fight For What You Believe In
Aunty Hazel Collins, 63
By January 2014, my daughter Helen had already had three of her children forcibly removed by child welfare. When they took her fourth away, eight police officers and four Department of Community Services workers came, just to remove a 15-month-old baby. There was no reason for them to take him from Helen – but it’s a broken system. I was there that day and something snapped inside me. I promised her we’d get him back. By February, I’d founded Grandmothers Against Removals and we held our first rally. Six years on and we’re getting children home to their families, but it’s a slow and frustrating process because the change needs to come from a governmental level.
What’s happening now has been described as “a new stolen generation”, but that’s just not true – it never stopped, we just stopped talking about it.
People tell me, “Oh, you’re very angry.” And I reply, “Well, yes, yes I am.” I’m not going to mask that, because this anger has come from generations of genocidal acts on Aboriginal people. As a child, my grandmother was removed and put in Cootamundra Girls’ Home.
I grew up on a mission, and even though I was living with my amazing mother, we always knew welfare was a possibility. All the kids there would hide when a white car drove up the road, because we knew it meant someone was about to be taken away. Every generation has that same deep-seated fear. But it’s not a ghost in the closet or a vague possibility – it’s a reality.
Before my 10-year-old grandson, Taidan, was finally allowed to live with me, time and time again I was deemed unsuitable to care for my grandchildren who had been removed. It’s degrading, because I don’t have a criminal record, I’ve never drunk alcohol or done drugs. I worked as a nurse for more than 30 years, for God’s sake – so why am I not fit to look after my own flesh and blood?
We need to bring these children home, stop the atrocity of stealing their identity and raping them of their culture, because they’re never going to grow up to be proud of who they are if they don’t know where they came from. They should be celebrating their heritage – living it every day. I’ll keep fighting until the day I die, because I would never forgive myself if I gave up. I’d like to think that when I’m gone, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be proud of what Nanny’s done, and carry on in my footsteps.
So trust in who you are, trust your strengths – because only you can fight the fight. Give your voice to the voiceless. Stand together, be seen, be heard, make noise.
How To Be A Total Boss
Betty Colbran, 93
It was the 1950s, and society saw a woman’s place as in the home, not the office. Not one married woman in the street where we lived in Sydney had a job. But I wanted to work – I had ambition. A little while after getting married, I got a position as a clerk at an advertising agency. Two months in, I asked the boss if I could be a copywriter. He agreed, on the provision that I attend a night course first to upskill. From then on, I was hooked. I loved putting words together, and it turned out I was very good at it.
But just as I was getting started, I fell pregnant. The day my son started school nearly six years later, I marched into the Kingsgrove Courier and they hired me on the spot. I even pitched my own column, Betty’s Bylines, which was hugely successful. A few years later, a management role became available, but instead of promoting me, they hired a man with almost no experience. This was about 1960, and they couldn’t make a woman a manager, not on your nelly, no! That they’d overlooked me purely because I was female really irritated me, so I handed in my resignation. It was the right decision, because not long after I successfully applied to the Canterbury News and Lakemba Advance, and became the only woman managing a suburban newspaper in the whole of Sydney.
Thankfully, I was never harassed at work, but men constantly doubted my abilities. Once, when I went to the bank to collect my paycheque, the teller asked if it was my fortnightly pay. When I told him it was actually my weekly salary, he nearly fell off his chair and said, “But you make more than I do!” It was incredibly satisfying. My advice to young women today is that, even now, you’ve got to be twice as good as men. You have to prove yourself over and over, but grab those opportunities and show them what you can do, because you can kill ’em, kid.
How To Live Alone
Inge Huebner, 79
I grew up in Northern Germany, during WWII. I remember being put to bed wearing three outfits, with a warm brick at my feet. When the alarm would sound in the middle of the night, we’d rush to the bunker nearby, but it was hardly better than a garage – if a bomb had hit I doubt we would have survived.
It was scary of course, but I think time taught me to be resourceful, to know I could get through anything. My mother, brothers and I learnt to knit and sew, and we’d make things for farmers in exchange for food. I was 17 when we moved to Australia after the war, and it was there, in Melbourne, I met my future husband.
I left him when I was 39, and my children were 11 and 14. Looking back, I sometimes wonder if I had known how hard it was going to be, if I’d still have had the guts. But I’m so glad that I did.
People were incredibly judgemental about single mothers back then. There was a definite stigma but – surprise, surprise – divorced men weren’t viewed the same way. The worst part was how many men felt like they had a right to make a pass at me or ask very bluntly if I’d go to bed with them. When I’d say, “Excuse me?!” they’d reply, “Well, who do you think you are? You’re divorced after all.”
Thankfully, in 2020, things have improved a bit. And young women now are so much better educated and equipped to look after themselves than we were. To be honest, I think that scares men – in my generation they never wanted you to work, never wanted you to be able to figure things out on your own, because that way you were dependent – and they could act however they wanted. I’ve learnt to love my own company in the 40 years since my marriage ended. My life has never been lacking simply because there’s not a man in it. Stay positive, fill your life with things you love, and keep going no matter what.
This article originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of marie claire.