Sunday, 22 April 2012

Just a House...

There's something unsettling, uncomfortable and final about selling the family house, the only stable home I have known, where my late parents lived most of their lives. Having lived in eighteen different houses across three countries, one stable house has meaning - significant meaning! It's just a house.... but the walls hold and embrace stories of my early life riding a tricycle, riding a trolley down the steepness of Glencoe Avenue and playing in the lantana bush opposite our house. I also remember walking to the corner store and primary school, playing rugby, catching the bus to the local library in Annerley, high school and university. It was always a given that this stable entity was always there even after 50 years.
The lounge room was the agora of the home and I remember huddling around the TV set, watching cricket, eating homemade biscuits, chatting, sipping tea, fixated on the television momentarily when something happened in the cricket match. The ebb and flow of the conversation was dictated by the number of cups of tea and the tension of the action in the cricket match. It's just a house.... but I remember sitting with dad on the verandah late at night as we watched the planes beginning their descent to the airport. For some reason they appeared to turn at a tree in the nearby distance. Each plane would confirm this apparent turning. I remember mum sitting near the back porch embracing the morning sun and warming herself particularly on a winters day chatting away punctuated with pauses of silent understanding. I also remember mum entering my small bedroom and attempting to wake me several times to begin the day. I was known for my reluctant early morning starts. Dad would give me a synopsis of news for the day before I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and had eaten my Weetbix. 
Walking around the gardens for the last time, I couldn't help noticing how mum had positioned my ubiquitous rock collection throughout the garden. It was also evident that once you parted one layer of plants there were multiple layers of plants positioned for the viewer. Once she had designed one aspect of the garden she had created another layer. It demonstrated the hands of a passionate gardener.

Sitting on the verandah one last time I couldn't help but notice the trees and the house scape across the valley. Gazing into the umbrella tree I could see the frolicking lorikeets crawling along the branches. They reminded me of the times I sat with mum and dad in the cool of the summer evening. I always remember mum tweaking the garden, completing crosswords, reading ubiquitous magazines and always interested in what you were saying and doing. 
The GPS navigator in the car still has the address in the favorites and I'm sure my hire car will intuitively navigate back to 12 Glencoe.
It's just a house - yes! But it was my home and I'll be sad to see it go.... not because of its architecture but because of the joyful memories it holds of mum and dad - at home.

Saturday, 21 April 2012


We begin naked and exposed to the eyes, until we layer a veneer over the skin, each layer on top of each other. Both have many layers upon their skin, some by choice, some by design, some to guard and some that unexpectedly adhere and remain and are difficult to shake. The veneers have occurred over the years until they hardly remember the number, and now form a viscous coat heavy to carry. Eyes meet and a layer is removed, gentleness and calmness of voice removes another, respectful distance another and a feeling of safety, and another layer is removed. A point of interest sparks their passion and layers shed until they truly become themselves. Confusion and puzzlement occur until a message stirs a passion, a need within to express, to purge, to scream out – “Doesn’t anyone see who I am?” My exterior is different to my soul which only deep focusing on my eyes reveal – “Doesn’t anyone see who I am?” Doesn’t anyone see the sparkle, the passion, the words exploding into the ether to be collected by passerbys as if scattered diamond graffiti. “Are they just imaginary phrases or are they real?” ”You are real!” as each giggle three-dimensionally. A glance at fingers reveals a ring, a symbol, another layer is added. A bluish stone confuses, puzzled by what it is, a unique tanzanite from the foothills of Kilimanajaro. The eyes water trying not to show feelings now hiding under layers. They interact but has the ‘bubble burst’ – or has a specialness begun?, who knows?, a dance forward for an angel.

Thursday, 19 January 2012


A long hallway lead to the 7th floor open area apartment decorated with black leather furniture, bright coloured cushions, art from various countries and mobile art in the form of jostling cosmopolitan people chatting in their groups, drinking expensive red wine and eating sushi. A Kandinsky took pride of place on a wall and red-figured dancers of Matisse lined the other. Portrait photos filled the gaps…close-ups of just the person’s face telling a story to the stationary onlooker….

Natasha was impressed at the decorative taste as she walked briskly into the room, searching, wearing a purple blouse and jeans with a decorative belt buckle of turquoise that was supposed to protect her, heal her and energize her. She felt confident, energized and highly annoyed. She was on a mission. Never one to hold back, she was going to let the pompous duo know exactly what she thought of them. How dare they dismiss her, ridicule her ideas in a public forum…she was no shrinking violet and she was going to make them squirm!

Waves lashed the shore two blocks away from the 7th floor apartment, seagulls glided effortlessly in the wind, noises of other parties flooded the balconies. The accustomed chatter and clang of glasses filled the air. Cars made their way along the beach front, convertibles, sports cars and also the occasional beamer. 

Natasha found the dynamic duo she was looking for and pushed aside one to enter the group and began her languishing with colourful and appropriate adjectives. She began tearing strips off the two individuals and true to her word began to make them squirm….Her words flowed like an uncontrollable cough as she targeted words full of substance toward the duo. It continued uncontrollably…..

Joshua, the host of the party moved across the room and stood beside Natasha who was pointing her finger at the guilty duo who began to quiver…they had underestimated her spirit and began to look for a rock to crawl under and regret their significant indiscretion at the meeting. Joshua was a little amused at the audacity of his gate crasher, but liked her fiery and spirited nature. He carefully placed a gentle hand on the back of her neck….she turned angry at first, then looked puzzled then surprised and then somewhat soothed and calmed. Joshua the diplomat looked toward the duo, and added in a calm and melodic voice “what she means is this….” “The department have just agreed to fund Natasha’s research as they see it as a top priority - leading edge and innovative were some of the words used”. “Other areas will need to submit to the competitive round and I would suggest that you consider this for your own work”. Natasha was stunned, silenced, puzzled, unsure what to say….she was so used to fighting her own battles…Without pausing she gazed into Joshua’s eyes and whispered “I’ll have a red”…..

Saturday, 14 January 2012


Words are not enough to capture the devotion, kindness, thoughtfulness and unselfishness of a mother. Fond memories of encouraging looks, loving eyes and encouraging gestures flood the mind and heart. An amazing spirit, insatiable reader and artistic mind characterise her deliberate actions and mindful devotion to her children. 

Although she has aged she still puts you first, even though she now has only half her body parts she still ignores her pain to focus on you; even though she feels her fragility and walks unsteadily she notices the slightest change in your gait although she shuffles awkwardly.

She keeps moving because that’s all she can do, doesn’t want to stop; doesn’t want to feel like she can’t look after you anymore, still wants to do what she can for you and remembers your favourite biscuit when you visit.

'I Don't Remember'

Astrand felt dazed, groggy and a little unaware of where he was…he could feel that he was lying in a bed but had no recollection of how he had arrived here. He searched the room with his eyes, darting back and forth across the beige painted room without a hint of a painting, a photo or the smudge of a small child’s food-covered hand. For the moment he was engaged but he became agitated as he attempted to recollect his last thoughts. 

He remembered leaving the house, hugging his three-year old daughter and beginning his usual ride to work….and then nothing, he couldn’t remember how he had gotten to the beige painted room. His body also felt different, he wasn’t sure why until he began to move. He started moving his arms away from his side and wiggled his fingers feeling refreshed at their movements. 

He then attempted to move his legs and for some reason they did not feel attached to his action thoughts. They just didn’t move, they didn’t follow his thoughts like they used to do….. He tried wiggling his toes and they just didn’t respond….he tried in vain but he just couldn’t remember how to wiggle his toes….

'Marched to the Beat of a different Drummer'

The best way to describe Dad was that he ‘marched to the beat of a different drummer’. He was born on the 21st January, 1923 in Toowoomba and the Darling Downs forever stayed in his blood. As a family we jokingly say 1923 as he had three different birth certificates. He was either 88, 89 or 90 depending upon which one you believe! The different dates probably had something to do with a young man wanting to get into the army, with stars in his eyes and adventure on his mind. 

Serving in World War II must have been an intense, overwhelming experience for a young man. It must have been a dynamic, alive, heroic time for him and his ‘mates’. Our family has absolute respect for a man who fought to keep his country safe. Dad was a story-teller who recounted his time in the army with detailed accounts of his experiences with his ‘mates’. His family know his stories well….even sometimes able to recount the stories, word for word due to the number of times we heard them. Only occasionally would we say that we had heard this story before….simply because we knew they were important to him. 

He was a ‘larger than life character’, physically strong and enduring who was a great cyclist and footballer. One story about his cycling is etched on my memory. He rode from Toowoomba to Brisbane on a wooden rimmed bike, down the range with no brakes (so the story goes) and survived. I don’t think I would be doing this in my car let alone on my fancy touring bike today - that is without brakes! In 1939 the Toowoomba Valleys combined football team were the ‘winner of the all trophies’. He played for both Toowoomba and Warwick and was known for his love of football and his tackling ability.

He was a complex man, sensitive but always wanted the best for his family. One thing is certain, Dad had impeccable taste in marrying Peggy and celebrating 64 years of marriage. Even the Queen sent congratulations to them on their 60th Anniversary. I think she was also impressed! Mum and dad complemented each other as only they know. Together, they had five children, three boys and two girls. They were all animated and sporty kids. They were all strong-willed and probably a tad determined like their Dad. Now there are 11 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren and even great-great grandchildren. The legacy lives on. 

He was heavily involved in managing rugby union teams including junior Brisbane and Queensland teams. He was always there to offer oranges at half-time, transporting young rugby players home after practice and being involved with the sport. He gave enormous time to his kids sport, and gave his time freely and generously. He was always there late at night to pick-up a weary sports-child. He was proud of his children and their achievements.

Dad worked in grocery stores and this also was something that held importance in his life. He had an incredible work ethic. He managed stores, organizing people, making sure the customers were catered to. He was gregarious in his dealings with people and enjoyed chatting to people. He also worked for the shop assistants union, travelling across the state of Queensland to improve conditions for members. In retirement, he loved nothing more than comparing prices of different items in different stores and telling all his children about it.

He loved his pet dogs – Prince and Socks and his parrots. Dad would often sit in his favourite chair in the lounge room, chatting to his pet bird as it perched on his shoulder. The conversation and the discussion was animated and frenetic. His pet bird would only sit on Dad’s shoulder and converse ONLY with him. Only they knew what was said but the understanding between them was undeniable. He had a strong affinity with pets and many of our memories involve his interactions with them. 

Dad would read the papers from cover to cover often before most people had awoken for the day. He continued to read the Warwick, Toowoomba and Brisbane papers showing his strong connection with his favourite cities. He was true to his nature to the last, even ‘strongly discussing his breakfast menu with the nurses last Sunday morning’. I am sure he is listening and he will be enjoying the conversation. 

Dads wry humour continues on….as well as his newspaper collection as only his family know. We will miss your stories, we will miss your humour and we will miss your chats about the rugby and the stories from the newspapers which were priceless! Most of all we will all miss you!

'Tribute to an Angel'

“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens”. Peggy’s attitude to life was beyond comparison.

Peggy Eileen O’Connor was born in Warwick on July 1, 1927. The origin of ‘Peggy’ is ‘pearl’ and we viewed her as the rarest form. Eileen means ‘light’ in Irish which is fitting for a woman who was a ‘lighthouse’ for many people. “In Ireland's history the O’Connors are so numerous, eminent and varied that an encyclopedia would scarcely do them justice.” You wonder who wrote this statement but one thing is for sure: Mum was quintessentially Irish.

Peggy came from a large Catholic family. Her parents were Nessie and William with Pat then Betty Joan and Joy (the triplets) as sisters and Morgan, Geoff and John as brothers. Peggy’s dad William was also partially responsible for the O’Connor/Keppell height or lack of, being five foot and a fraction! He was also known as ‘Scissors O’Connor’ because of his speedy nature on the football field. One of mum’s first memories was watching the triplets trying to crawl in different directions across the floor.

Peggy married Fred when she was nineteen and celebrated 64 years of marriage. Mum and dad complemented each other. Mum was clever, creative and intuitive and Dad was physically strong, determined and gregarious. Even after 64 years of marriage they still gave each other a kiss when they left each other’s side. It must have been an extraordinary bond as they departed this world 19 days apart. They lived in the ‘Tarragindi house’ for over 50 years. Together, they had five children, three boys and two girls. Now there are 11 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren and even great-great grandchildren.

Peggy’s children were her universe, and she was devoted to us. It is important to realize that “any mother could perform the jobs of several air traffic controllers with ease” and mum needed this skill many times in raising five of us. She always knew more than she said as Phil knows very well. Apparently, Phil wagged high school (for the first time of course) and went to the city for the day. Forty years later mum whispered in his ear at a family BBQ that she saw him that day from the bus, something she had kept secret all that time. “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool mum” is a testament to her ‘intuition’. Annie tapped into her cheeky side when she encouraged mum to eat a larger portion of food at dinner. Peggy chose a small slice of banana and then nonchalantly popped it into her mouth and smiled mischievously. Annie laughed: “I’ll get cranky with you mum if you don’t eat”. Mum placed her hands on her tiny hips and said: “I’ll get crankier!” They both laughed out loud – a priceless interaction.

Mum was also our best friend. “The best kind of friend is the kind you can sit on a porch swing with, never say a word, and then walk away feeling like it was the best conversation you've ever had”.

Peggy had a love of learning and an inquisitive mind who taught others that we never stop learning – mainly because it’s such fun. She was also the most patient person. Mum was a teacher – not in a formal sense but nonetheless she was a natural educator. She had the most precious gift of an inspiring teacher – the ability to encourage curiosity, encourage reading, and encourage learning. She would spend days searching magazines or books to find supportive pieces for our assignments and essays when we were children. More than once we got into trouble at school using words beyond our vocabulary as mum had helped us with our homework. Even at 84 she played on the computer sending email, searched the web and downloaded cryptic crosswords. She even played with the iPad looking at digital artwork – her face lighting up at the joy of mastering something new.

Mum loved reading and Jen could barely keep up with supplying her books. Jen had to become a librarian just to support mum’s reading habit. She would usually read a few books a week and enjoyed the challenge of working out ‘who did it’ in the crime mysteries. Jen would often determine the ones she wanted to read after mum had vetted them for her. Her other joy involved the solving of difficult and cryptic crossword puzzles. If we ever needed to know what a word meant – we would ask mum. She loved gardening and she designed the ‘Tarragindi home garden’ so that it was a sanctuary complete with statues. Some of her favourite flowers were orchids and she particularly liked the purple flower of the Jacaranda trees at this time of year. She was a wonderful cook and her sponge cake with whipped cream was always our favourite birthday cake. Many family conversations occurred in front of the cricket on TV with homemade biscuits and copious cups of tea. She loved her art books and used them as inspiration for her artwork. She also loved to travel and managed to traverse the globe travelling around Australia, Norfolk Island, New Zealand, Canada and Hong Kong. Her passion for learning was obvious as she viewed the new places with her natural curiosity.

Mum blossomed as an artist. It was an outlet that opened the floodgates into her creative side. This creative outlet was her sanctuary – her place. She was prolific beyond our wildest expectations. Mum was a member of the ‘Art in Bark Association’ for over 25 years and was a life-member, with many good friends who shared her passion. She created around 300 art-in-bark pieces. She won numerous awards including the prestigious Dame Mary Durack Craft Awards which were displayed at the museum. She also won prizes at the Brisbane Ekka, Sydney and Canberra shows as well as selling dozens of pictures. She is also the only member of the Keppell Family who is in the ‘Guiness Book of Records’ for the creation of ‘The Olgas’ a bark picture measuring 12.3 metres long by 2.7 metres high. It was recognised for the being the ‘largest bark picture in the world’. Painting was her latest passion. Jen recalls mum sitting at her table with her paint smock, concentrating to the exclusion of everything else around her. She would often sit painting her colorful scenes, mixing the colours until they were just right for her picture. Her paint strokes would steadily layer another colour on the canvas as she joyously embraced life. Every second she painted was priceless. She entered a tranquil and peaceful place as she painted and became lost in the colour of her creation. In six short months she had created over sixty pieces. The card you were given as you entered the Chapel is a reminder of Peggy K (her artistic name) and her original artwork.

Mark Twain is quoted as saying: “my mother had a slender, small body, but a large heart - a heart so large that everybody's joys found welcome in it, and hospitable accommodation”. Likewise Peggy was slender to the point that the family have coined a new term, ‘Peggy-weight’. As most would know Peggy Eileen weighed 29kg – but all of it was pure spirit and pure courage. She tackled an ascent of Kilimanjaro every day. The best way to describe Peggy was the way she made you feel. When you meet someone and remember back later, we often forget the detail of the conversation, but we always remember how that person made us feel. Peggy was the type of person who made everyone feel special, who made everyone feel good about themselves. She was warm and loving and transferred this to you in a selfless way. She made you feel like you were the centre of her being whether you were family, friend, stranger or carer. Just recently, Mum encouraged one of her carers ‘to follow her dreams’ just as she always encouraged her children. One of her friends at Arcare mentioned that Peggy was such a ‘gentle person’ – in all ways. Words, speech, images will barely scratch the surface in portraying her. She was an unachievable act to follow and an angel who touched our hearts and spirit. Peggy wasn’t just our mother – she was the finest person we have known.