I was chatting to my Mum today who was just home from the funeral of Nancy Stephens. She described the funeral as lovely and went on to say what a huge support and mentor Nancy had been to her as a young mother in a small town far from family. I then happened to read Jac Stephens’ beautiful post to her mother and her “Sticky Lemon Delicious Cake” on Facebook. And Richard Cornish posted about his Mum on International Women’s Day, the beautiful words he posts each year and never fail to send a shiver down my spine.
I look at the family and the community I grew up in and see, not just an idyllic childhood of farms, beaches, horses, sailing and home-baked cakes but also the number of extraordinary women who influenced our world.
From my grandmother who was widowed in the late 1940s with three small children, who ran an orchard and privately educated her children, to my mother who believed her girls could … so we did. There was the big group of kids who travelled an hour each way to the private schools of Toorak, Peninsula and Woodley because our parents wanted to ensure we had a progressive education.
The women who did, because they just did: Robyn Cornish, also widowed young with four small kids who ran a dairy farm; Sue Lawson, through whom a generation learnt to ride; Margaret Bell, our kindy teacher and later a politician and to this day I remain both in awe and just a little bit scared; Betty Taylor; Judy Hines; Nancy Stephens; Isabelle Trahair, our baby sitter who taught us to deal a mean Canasta hand; Sue Winneke, one of Victoria’s first women barristers, who told me being a female engineer would be tough but get over it. And so, so many others…
And I watch as this amazing group of women, now mostly into their eighties, support each other through divorce, widowhood, ill-health and all the associated joys of ageing. And all the while they still live on their farms, maintain their large gardens, grow veggies, bake and make jam.
On this International Women’s Day, thanks to all the amazing female role models of Flinders/Shoreham/Main Ridge/Red Hill who, by doing, allowed us to believe that girls could do anything – and guess what? As it turns out that, we can!