My Lifetime Warriors
“I am Woman. Hear me roar, in numbers to big to ignore...”
How very blessed I was to be eleven years old when Helen Reddy launched her emphasise anthem, to the world. With her pageboy haircut, knitted vest and high waisted flared jeans, she was everything I aspired to be. However, it was the lyrics of her (now iconic) song which captured my imagination the most. Women across the world were uniting, and Helen’s song became their theme song.
It was an exciting time. And this small town country girl was about to embrace life to it’s fullest. I knew that given the chance, “...I could do anything”. I knew I was going to be “strong”, and I certainly felt “invincible.” And no one was “ever gonna keep me down, again.” Like the ladies who were discovering their independence and self-worth, “I am Woman” became my theme song. And I knew, at the tender age of eleven, that these inspirational, brave women were paving the way for me. I just took it for granted that life was going to be a level playing field.
This was also around the time Germaine Greer entered my life. Well metaphysically, anyway. Her book “The Female Eunuch” came onto the Australian market. And Australian society was never the same. Amidst the furore and controversy that surrounded it, I glimpsed a grainy black and white vision of her on television speaking her truth about women and equality. To an impressionable eleven year old, her words resounded. I watched on television as women en masse across the world marched for their rights, their freedom, and for their voices to be heard. And spiritually I was there right alongside.
The year was 1971, and my life was just beginning. Those wonderful pre-teen years when everything is to come, and the present is easy.
Mum and I lived with my grandparents. Mum had been a child bride. She was barely sixteen when she married my father. It was easier to succumb to an early marriage, than a child born out of wedlock. The union was always going to be a disaster. My father worked away from home a lot. Mum was still only a baby herself, vivacious, and lonely. It was only a matter of time before she packed her bags, and with me in tow, we walked up the street, and moved in with my Grandparents. By today’s standards our home was humble. But what it lacked in material possessions, was more than compensated for by the richness of character of those who lived within its walls.
Mum was a free spirit and years ahead of her time. Whilst other mothers were doing tuck-shop and teachers help, mine was going to work. Whilst other mothers were the stereotypical country mums, my mother wore the latest fashions, went out dancing, had left my father, and was in a relationship with an Italian man. Eyebrow raising stuff in a conservative rural town in the early ‘70’s. She was my walking, talking Helen and Germaine rolled into one.
And then there was Nanna. Nanna was born on a farm in 1908, and that girl was born a feminist. No light bulb moment. No raging against inequality. She just simply was. The thought would have never entered Nanna’s head that she wasn’t the equal of anybody. Nor would it have entered her head to act or feel subservient to a man. Maybe the answer was due to her harsh upbringing. She was one of four girls, and the lack of brothers meant the girls were expected to “pull their weight.” Which they did – ploughing, carting hay, harvesting crops. All done with heavy, turn-of-the-century equipment. Life was harsh.
Nanna, along with her sisters, did what had to be done. From the humblest of beginnings a wonderfully strong woman of character was born. She went forth into the world, worked, travelled, returned to the country town from whence she came, married my grandfather, and bore him two daughters.
It is now with adults eyes, I look back and realize just how equal Nanna and Grandpa were within their marriage. Not that it was a marriage made in heaven. Or a particularly harmonious one. To call it a robust partnership was closer to the truth. Nanna took no prisoners. There was never a time when she allowed Grandpa to dominate her, intimidate her, or destroy her self worth. For her part of the bargain she cooked, cleaned, and provided him with a comfortable home. When my Auntie was getting married, and money was tight, Nanna went back to work. She didn’t seek my grandfather’s approval or permission. She just did what had to be done, secure in the knowledge that she was master of her own universe.
Not that Grandpa would have stopped her. To call my grandfather a sweet man was an understatement. His sense of justice and equality for all was printed on his DNA. He was a champion of the working man, the indigenous, and the downtrodden.
Grandpa had very little formal schooling. During the Depression he moved from the city to the country. He took up farm work, met and married my grandmother, and lived in the same country town until his death. What Grandpa lacked in schooling, he more than made up for as an adult. He had a thirst for knowledge, especially current affairs, and he educated himself. Every morning he read the daily newspaper cover to cover. And when he and Nanna bought their first television, it widened his world even more. His appetite for documentaries was insatiable. He had an immense respect for those who were formally educated. However, his own lack of formal education never made him feel inferior. Because of his own thirst for knowledge, he knew he could hold his own with anybody.
Our house was modest, as were most back then. The television reigned supreme in the lounge room. Every night after tea we would gather ritualistically in the lounge room to watch the news. Not a word was allowed to be spoken while the grainy screen flickered, bringing into the room the war in Vietnam, Civil Rights marches and American assassinations. After the news had finished, the topics of the day were open for discussion. Politics was always on the agenda. I, as a child would listen to their conversations and from an early age developed an interest in politics that has stayed with me all my life. I was the most politically and socially aware child in my class. Consequently I was viewed by my teachers as somewhat precocious, and by my peers as an oddity.
Fast forward through the years. I am now in my late fifties. I am sitting in a Hall of Learning at Oxford University. I am watching my beautiful, accomplished daughter graduate with Honours in her chosen field. Mum is beside me. I just wish my grandfather was alive to see what his great-granddaughter has achieved in her thirty years. And yes, she is continuing to fight the good fight. Her last twelve months at Oxford were spent campaigning for women to be admitted to an exclusive “Men Only” private club. The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.
Helen Reddy, Germaine Greer, Nanna, Grandpa, and Mum. These were the people who shaped me, and in turn, my daughter. Even Nanna and Grandpa, long gone now, but their legacy still holds fast. These peoples’ teachings have followed me down through the years. Many times I have stumbled and fell. I have splattered myself on the fabric of life. But their words, thoughts and wisdom have come back to me time and time again. I am proud to be the product of them all.
Charmaine Murray is 58 years old from Australian. With it's climate and lifestyle, Australia is a wonderful place to call home. She loves history and traveling. She draws inspiration from old buildings, and the secrets they possess. Different cultures, people, and experiences nurture her soul. Charmaine has learned throughout life that it is not the financial that matters. All things in nature, a good book, a quiet moment in the garden - these are the things that fulfil her.