Tribute to Mum

On the occasion of my mother's commemorative service
Australian Galleries Paddington NSW
22 June 2016

May I first thank my family and friends for being with me to make the loss of my mother bearable.

Thank you everyone for coming today.

Being that she meant so much to so many, I should not claim an extra weight only that as a mother, the love she gave my brother Gregory and myself is a love complete, we shall now be without, and so especially we feel the loss.

Today I speak on behalf of Greg and myself and you must choose who is talking and when.

I shall be covering areas touched on by earlier speakers. We are all skimming across the surface of a deeper life this ceremony seeks to acknowledge. Grounds covered twice hopefully will be enhanced.

From a very young age, I used to watch my mother working. I watched as the letters formed themselves, no point trying to break her concentration, I would watch as the letters formed and spread across the page to make bigger shapes, compositions of words. Arrays of nibs and brushes, none that I was allowed to touch, except for those worn out, the limp bristled ones I was given. These experiences formed an art education to which institutions could not compete. To be both empowered and excluded from a wider world has brought me to where I am today.

Several weeks before Margo died, I arrived to have lunch at Hunters Hill Lodge. Angela at the desk told me as I went past that Essie her sister, was coming for lunch. Everyone was really excited to be meeting her and when I went to Margo’s unit I found her dressed and readier for an occasion than she had been for some years. As gently as I could, I told her Essie would probably not be coming as a consequence of her death six years ago and she said, “Wow. How could I have thought she was coming?”

Several weeks later, now that Margo has died that story presents itself as a foresight, and a perhaps impending event. That being that miracles are possible even in the context of a sensible perspective, I invite Mum now to make herself known to us if she is currently available.

Mum? I give you ten seconds. We would love for you to indicate your presence.


Love you Mum.

As a six year-old, my father would point to the sky every time a plane went overhead and say, “Look at the plane!” I always wondered why he always said it as if in looking hundreds of times at it, which he insisted on doing, that some existential aspect might be better revealed. Mum was different. She would say, “Look at the tree! Just look at the colour of the sky, just look at that blue!” It did not require such an effort. The apprehension of beauty was always more appealing than trying to fathom what seemed a darker space.

That I should mention both parents within the one sentence now brings them together briefly in the way I always imagined they were destined, if even they could have understood the love they had for each other. Their divorce was often described as the most unsuccessful divorce ever. If only for the duration of this paragraph then, I have realised a long held slightly childish yearning for their reunion.

“In the context of this statement, I pronounce you man and wife! ”

The circumstance of the early years of their marriage were particularly challenging. Compatibility sometimes faces unreasonable challenges. Their lives, all our lives were shaped for better and worse from that point.

I remember home in the fifties as a rich intellectual environment with my father still studying medicine, the house was always full of his friends from university. The Push mingled with post war energy. It was a time of great flux. My much loved uncle David was there promoting the imminent revolution. So compelling, I continue to implement the radical views promoted at this time.

After the storm of these years, Mum subsequently found a companion in Ron Austin, who is here today. He brought a loving more cultured calm to the house. Some of the music you hear today was introduced to us by Ron. Subsequently Ron moved on to make a considerable contribution to Sydney culture about which many here would know.

As mentioned, we went as a family to Rome for a family reconciliation in 1960. Happiest days of her life Mum would later describe them, I went to St. George’s English School with Greg. Mum learnt Italian, learnt Italian cooking and consumed Italian culture. From having been induced to love the colour of the sky I was now as an eight year old required to be absorbed by Fra Angelico, Botticelli and Romanesque architecture which I duly did, not from instruction but from her infectious zeal.

If you wanted to find yourself in Rome in 1960, the only place better than that would be London 1962, the coldest winter on record, The Beatles emerging, my father ensconced in Tavistock clinic to study psychiatry and Mum finally studying full time at the home of typography and calligraphy.

I passed the 11+ and went to the bucolic Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School which I loved. Greg did not have an opportunity to do the 11+ and went to Ashmole Secondary Modern School where he learnt how to be a London gangster.

Family in Sydney and Greg’s situation persuaded us to return to Australia finally in 1965. That was fifty years ago.

You have met Alan now. Their partnership, both personal and professional provided the framework in which so much potential was now realised for Mum. Being that much graphic design is transient, consumed by the demands of the moment, there is little to show today. The commercial benefits from this partnership however, enabled her to be very comfortable in her subsequent life. From this partnership also she was able to assist Gregory to be as comfortable as a mother would wish their child to be.

It is perhaps not appropriate for me to speculate on what it is to be a woman. Men venturing into the area do so with Turnbullian recklessness however, I can bring my own experience of a mother who was always strong and independent, who never, despite some challenging experience, loved men without reserve, as if they had done her no wrong. The example she set was gender free. Be excellent. Be beautiful. Aspire.

Talking to Mum on the phone, I was always struck by the youthfulness of her voice. It was a clear pure voice, second generation of well bred Englishness. She was a Peta Pan, who would never grow old. Young men were still prowling, charmed by her inspiration.

That she should persist by her example to be alive still does not diminish the grief brought by this sudden absence.