We have been quiet and will be for a while longer for our hearts lie with our beloved Mother, Joyce, who, after starring in our lives and shining light and love and laughter into the dark corners of many hundreds of other people’s lives has left us at the age of 93. The good may die young but it seems that now and then the great die old.
She was only 5’2” in her cotton socks but bestrode all of our narrow worlds like a colossus.
When she wasn’t speaking out on social issues, righting wrongs and giving more and better advice than the Man in Blue, she was cooking superb meals for our frequent large Irish-Australian Catholic family dinners and parties, where it was usual for 20 to sit at the table and feast on her legendary stews and roasts.
Her pineapple surprise, passed on by her lovely sister Molly, was the most extraordinary creation and deserves a blog on its own. I’ve seen Mum walk into large, crowded, noisy parties holding this dish aloft and the crowd hush and stare, seeming to look about for palm fronds to break off and lay at her feet as she advances, all eyes on the tiny woman with the resolute look, the kind eyes and the tray of artfully sliced pineapple interspersed with cream cheese, walnuts and glacé cherries and topped by the crown of the fruit waving over the top like a promise of tropical paradise found.
There were legendary exploits in the kitchen at the roadhouse in Yunta where long haul truck drivers would pull up their mighty trucks even if they had overshot the roadhouse by 20 kilometres and retrace their steps, damning their already tight schedules, if they had forgotten to stock up on Mum and our sister Rose’s world’s best chicken lettuce and mayonnaise sandwiches.
There was the huge bubbling pot of fragrant Irish Stew which when split up and with a dash of paprika, raisins and/or curry powder would become a miraculous culinary holy trinity and turn the roadhouse in the sandy desert into a little Dublin, Prague or Bombay.
Ah but her cooking, great though it was, was only a small part of the woman. This woman, small in stature but great in every other way, had reams of poetry and volumes of songs by heart and could bring a large crowd to tears of sadness or joy, swaying them like so much corn in the wind, howling with laughter one minute and reflecting on the beauty of faith and family the next.
Joyce was a life member of the Labor Party, committed to the working people and to the rights of the working men and women of Australia. She and her sisters letterboxed, handed out how to vote cards, baked cakes and organised on every level, holding fundraisers (mostly licit), distributing the Labor Party newspaper, and supporting the Catholic Church, which in those days was synonymous with the Labor Party, in every way but always respectful of the beliefs of others (unless, of course, they were Tories.) But even then she taught us they were entitled to their opinions and that even though their opinions were shockingly wrong they were more to be pitied than scorned.
She taught us very young how to meditate and reflect, we called it prayer then and still do. We find a Hail Mary or two still most comforting, particularly at times such as this when a Hail Mary, don’t you know, can travel like an express post letter to the other world straight into the shell like ear and ever merciful heart of The Star of the Sea herself.
In keeping with her faith, her upbringing, her morals and her heart Joyce fed the hungry and comforted the sad and lonely. I remember the poor Nuns of St Joseph, banished for their sins to teach at the one room school in Balaklava, where I would be sent to on the bus from Port Wakefield to school every week with a cardboard box full of provisions.
On Holidays and Feast Days there would be a bottle of St Agnes Brandy hidden in the Nun’s rose garden in an attempt to keep it safe from the clutches of the somewhat sodden poor old parish priest, a man who proudly claimed to be the only priest in Australia who had appeared on the front page of the Melbourne Truth twice ! (Once, I believe, for smuggling booze into the prison in Adelaide and the other for being caught driving dead drunk down the wrong side of Port Rd).
Three of the most important men in Mum’s life achieved giddy heights in those professions to which in those days Catholics were allowed to aspire. Her grandfather Joe was a train driver, her father Jack a Labor Senator and her husband Andy a grandstand bookmaker, three Princes and Patricians of the working class, not that they would ever have described or seen themselves as such. For they, like Joyce, believed in the dignity of working people and they treated all men and women with kindness and dignity. The Premier and the cleaning lady, the dust man or the governor would receive the same respect and attention, the same kindness and love.
In another age Mum and her sisters Molly and Pat could have been academics, scientists or the Premier themselves, as it was they were all Queens in their own realms, matriarchs of large, loving, supportive families.
I’m sorry, I could go on for many pages and not begin to tell you of the achievements of this remarkable woman, our Mother Joyce, of the unconditional love and affection she gave out and inspired. She was the world to us and to many hundreds that knew her and loved her.
Please, in your own way, pray for her, for today she is to be farewelled and soon her ashes will be scattered to join the elements.
Earth, Wind, Air and Fire will welcome her and there may well be some heated debate in scientific circles in Heaven as to whether or not a 119th element should be added to the periodic table.