This page is part of Irene Gladys Whiteman's
It contains the Eulogy delivered at the funeral of Irene Gladys Whiteman.
I'm the first-born of Rene and Tony Clarke, and so it falls to me ...
Rene was born in Portsmouth on 26/6/26 – just the first of her many positive encounters with the number '6'. Her parents were Hannah Russell and James Whiteman (of the Bedfordshire Whitemans, not the Sussex-Dorset Whitemans common in the region of Macarthur, 50km south of Sydney).
Her dedication to family was perhaps understandable, because she started out with so little of it. She was an only child, whose parents died when she was in her mid-twenties, and a half a world away. All but one of her known living blood-relatives are here today – 6 of the 7 of us. On Mum's side, Carole and I have a single second cousin, David Morris, out in the wilds of Bedfordshire. I once increased Mum's list of relatives by 25%, by establishing that a friend of hers of a similar age was actually her fourth cousin once removed.
Rene was born part-way into the short inter-War period, in mid-1926. We think we live in busy times, but consider what she experienced by the time she was 18.
Her childhood was spent in the midst of the Depression. WWII broke out when she was 13, and by her 14th birthday, the Nazis had control of the country just across the Channel from where she lived.
The Blitz began shortly afterwards. People remember London, Coventry and Dresden, and forget that Portsmouth, with its naval headquarters and dockyard, was one of the worst-hit cities.
Rene's mother ran a boarding-house in the seaside resort suburb of Southsea. But before her 15th birthday, a land-mine descended on a parachute and destroyed it.
She and her mother were evacuated to Basingstoke for a few months. She was soon back in Pompey, but the Blitz had removed the school too. So she worked for 6 months without pay, in lieu of the normal entry premium to an apprenticeship, and learnt the retail trade in hosiery, gloves and millinery. But before she could earn her first pay-packet, the shop fell prey to the Blitz as well. So by her 16th birthday she'd lost the three key buildings in her life. At least her few relations all survived.
She was busy too, working in Naval Headquarters in the Dockyards within sight of Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory. She was part of the huge team that successfully kept the D-Day Invasion quiet until it hit the shores of Normandy. And all of that had happened by 3 weeks before her 18th birthday.
Meanwhile, Tony was back in England after 7 years in uniform, and they met in St Judes church choir in March 1947. They were engaged on 27 February 1948 (which was Mum's parents' 32nd anniversary), and married on 9 August 1948. Dad was 28 and Mum a worldly 22.
Of course she was required to leave work when she married. That was how it
worked then, particularly with a shortage of jobs for the men who'd returned
from the War.
They took to tandem-cycling up Portsdown Hill to the bluebells in the beautiful South Downs. Once I came on the scene in late 1949, I of course gave them all the assistance I could from the side-car.
They escaped miserable post-War Britain on 6/6/51 – a few more of those 6s – and took a ten-quid assisted passage to Australia. Dad's brother Fred and his wife May had migrated to Kingaroy in south Queensland, and the three of us joined them there. For all of its dustiness, Kingaroy enabled both Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Mum and Dad to make progress. She took me with her while doing one of her part-time jobs, and left me to play with a pack of cards – which apparently upset the local Lutherans, who didn't approve of that sort of thing.
But Rene's Mum had passed away a mere 8 months after they'd left England. They sought approval for her 60-year-old father to join them in Australia, but after a 9 month delay, permission was refused due to his declining health. The rules also precluded them leaving until they'd been in Australia for 2 years. So they put their savings into fares back to England. A 4-month appeal process resulted in a reversal of the decision and approval for her Dad to come out, but it was too late because her father was by then too ill to travel. They left on 4/1/54.
There are no 6s in that date, so it was clearly an inauspicious number. At Port Said, they received word that Mum's father had passed away while they were at sea. So, thanks to government bureaucracy, they were adrift on a meaningless voyage which effectively interrupted their lives for 5 more years, to add to the gross disturbance of the War.
England was still post-war and still dismal. The bright spots were Carole's birth on 1/1/55, and getting back on board another ship to Australia on 1/1/56. (Notice how many 6s are hidden away in those dates). This was possible because Dad had used his negotiation skills to get the Australian Department of Immigration to agree to another ten-quid assisted-passage ticket. I've often wondered how many people did that twice!?
So, by her 30th birthday, Rene was back in Australia, with Tony and two young children. This time it was Bundaberg, out on the South Queensland coast, and positively verdant in comparison with Kingaroy. This was to be 13 more, hard-working, but much more pleasant years. Regrettably, it isn't easy for Mum and Dad's friends of those great years in Bundaberg to join us for today's celebration of life.
During this time, family was a big theme for Mum, as it was to be for her remaining 50 years. She did some amateur theatre, but then she rejoined the workforce – which in those days wasn't a foregone conclusion.
She spent some years usheretting. She could do that in the evening, and hence, inter-leaving with Dad, they avoided imposing on us the 'latch-key kid' syndrome.
By 1962, at the age of 36, she was Deputy Manager of Bundaberg's two cinemas and one drive-in, and doing creative things to promote films. With Dad as Deputy Manager of the town's largest hardware store and plumbing firm, they finally achieved the great Australian dream of home ownership in 1964, with Mum at 38 and Dad at 45.
It was all too stable. More change was afoot. I matriculated in 1966 (those 6s again), and left for Sydney. Rene's words as I boarded the train were "You will be careful, won't you?!'. Given Queensland's attitudes to sex education, I figured I'd just been given it. (The raucous laughter is from my sister-in-law, Georgie, who has actually taught sex education in Queensland – but under a euphemism, of course).
The 1500km of highway was much longer, slower and more dangerous then than it is now. So in 1968, with Rene at 42, home moved to Roseville on the North Shore, to sustain the vital family togetherness. This time it was a young Carole who was in the sidecar. There followed the period of greatest tension between Mum and me, because I'd already achieved independence, and enjoyed it. But the fights stayed within bounds because the roast potatoes were too good to forego. Remember that TV ad about roast lamb, with Nicole Kidman in it? It was based on Rene's roasts.
In Sydney, Mum worked in box-office positions in City theatres, and managed the manchester and fur sections of North Shore department stores. She finally settled on branch managership of what was then the NSW Building Society. During the last few of her 20 years in the workforce in Sydney, she managed a section in the Head Office of what was by then Advance Bank, and soon after merged with St George, agonising over borrowers who'd got into financial difficulties.
Despite the challenges of breaking into the Sydney housing market, they bought a house in Thornleigh in 1973. It was beside a noisy road and railway line; but the house and the garden were a haven for 12 years – the longest that Mum and Dad spent together in any one house.
In 1977, Mum and Dad returned to England for the first time in over 20 years, to meet up with their travelling children. This time they paid their way in both directions, and on planes instead of ships. Britain had improved. Australia was a lot better.
They followed this with forays around South-East Asia, and to Fiji, Norfolk Island and New Zealand, although she never did get to North America. The highlights were Switzerland in 1980 and 1982, to visit her first grandchild, and again in 1988.
Leading up to retirement, they bought a lovely home in Ruse, a nice area to the east of Campbelltown. They spent a very happy 10 years there, from 1985 to 1995. Mum finally had the time to do her high-quality knitting, and even though arthritis put paid to that over 10 years ago, my cupboard is still full of jumpers each of which would cost hundreds of dollars if you could find such good ones in a shop.
We'd moved away again, this time not quite so far, just to Canberra. But Carole and Peter moved to Ambarvale, nicely close, but not too close. Owen was born in 1990, and Lachlan in 1992, when Mum was 65. They were nearby, and she'd retired, so she spent lots of time with them. From 1995 to 2001, they were in another very nice Macarthur suburb, Kearns; and 3 years ago they moved to Carrington, just outside still-rural Camden. It's a lovely spot. I told them that they were merely looking after my unit for me until I retire.
Mum and Dad both enjoyed their bowls, and bridge. They surprised us by not only playing bridge with other people, but also making a formidable pair, despite their considerable differences in style. Dad reckoned they were successful because no-one knew what on earth he was doing; but Mum seemed to. That presumably had a lot to do with their great success as a couple, as parents, and as grandparents.
During the last couple of years, Dad has been playing most of the hands, and Mum had to put up with being dummy far more than she wanted to. Two rounds of cancer, and the first of two planned knee replacements, slowed her down a lot. In hindsight, she'd shown a lot of foresight by leaving Dad plenty of space in the kitchen throughout their 56 years together.
If you're preparing a eulogy, never make the mistake of asking your family for anecdotes about the departed loved one, because the list can get out of hand. One bit of trivia was that she inherited that ineffable ability of the English to squeeze a great deal of furniture into a small space. What's more, she never let the furniture stay in one place for very long, and one night Dad got out of bed in a hurry and tried to go through the window.
A highlight was her strong involvement with her four grandchildren, spread across 12 years: Kasia and Russell, and Owen and Lachlan. 20 years later, the Kasia that had become an oncology nurse, could advise and assist the whole family during the struggle of the last couple of years. All four grandchildren actively wanted to share the time at her bedside over the recent, final, hard weeks and nights.
A mate of mine in schooldays lost his mother to breast cancer when he was 16. I had 40 years more with my Mum than he did. I was very lucky, and I valued that time enormously. So did we all. Thanks, Mum!
This a page within Roger Clarke's Family Web-Site
Contact: Roger Clarke
Created: 2 September 2006; Last Amended: 2 September 2006