In this the last post in our Authors Remember their Grandparents series, we welcome author Trina Saffioti, whose recently published picture book Stolen Girl (Magabala Books, 2011) is our current Book of the Month. Illustrated by Norma MacDonald it is the story of an unnamed girl whose experiences as a child of the Stolen Generation of Australian Aboriginal children are based on what Trina imagines may have happened to her own grandmother.
Trina is also the author of The Old Frangipani Tree at Flying Fish Point. Descended from the Gugu Yulangi people of Far North Queensland, her writing is influenced by the stories her mother and grandmother used to tell her as she was growing up. Trina lives in Wellington, New Zealand.
My grandparents were very different. On my mother’s side my Indian and Muslim grandfather died when my mother was very young and her memories of him are few. Her mother, my grandmother, was Australian Aboriginal, Kanaka (Melanesian), and Chinese. My grandmother was a devout Christian and I am amazed by what I consider her bravery and devotion in marrying a man of another faith in what would have been the 1940s. She was a real trailblazer in other ways. I remember her as a very short, very dark-skinned old lady. She had a wonderful singing voice and she sang in the Orpheus Choir in Innisfail, North Queensland. We have a photo from the 1970s of her singing with the choir and you see hundreds of white faces and then this one black face.
She deliberately raised her children away from what she felt were negative influences (drinking, gambling) in the community. She was very strict with a lot of rules. We always had to use a tablecloth; you couldn’t just spread jam out of the jar at the table: it needed to be transferred to a special dish. Always cups and saucers, never mugs, and plates and cutlery always – even for takeaways. We always had to dress up for church. When Granny came to visit us in New Zealand, we would sit at the table eating nicely and sitting up straight, and go to church smartly dressed – and as soon as she returned to Australia, we would revert to our uncivilised ways, eating in front of the television when my mother would allow it, going to church in t-shirts and jeans, slurping out of mugs and (my favourite) drinking cordial straight out of the jug. Drinking cordial straight out of the jug is trickier than it sounds as you have to be both sneaky and silent to avoid making any noise when opening the fridge door. It couldn’t be risked when Granny was around because a) she had eyes in the back of her head, and b) she would’ve had a heart attack if she had seen me swigging away at the jug.
Granny loved shopping and beautiful things. She could be sick in bed all week but on pension day my teenage cousins had to take her to the shops. She would be waiting on a chair at the end of the drive.
She was also a storyteller and told me the traditional Aboriginal Dreamtime stories but also family stories, sometimes with a bit of embellishment. She kept her cards very close to her chest and was very fearful of people in authority. We knew very little of her story and her past right up until she died and even now we only know fragments. We know that she spent a period of time away from her mother, and that and other factors indicate that she was one of the Stolen Generation who were forcibly taken from their parents by the Australian government in the belief that they would receive a better upbringing in State care. I don’t know why she kept so much from us but I imagine it was to protect us because I know she always wanted the best for us.