Blogs by Karen Laura-lee-Lee Wilson
A Synopsis of My Talk at the Republic Bar on 3rd July
7/4/2011 3:06:12 PM
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An introduction to my reading from chapter 21 "Thumbs up at Tassie"at the Republic Bar, Hobart on 3rd July 2011
Republic Talk July 3rd 2011
My memoir "Gaining a Sense of Self" details my first 25 years growing up with a narcissistic mother. The book is mostly set in Brisbane during the 1950s and 1960s era. Sid Harta in Melbourne published my book in September 2010. I chose Sid Harta publishers because they took on first-time authors and I was a very raw one! With Sid Harta I signed a contract as a full partner in the publication and sales of the book. The book had taken me four years to write with the first two years of that time spent researching my family history. The family history part was very necessary because I knew so little about my mother’s life and her ancestors. In June 1999 I downloaded a196,000 word manuscript to Kerrie Collison, a Sid Harta publisher. The manuscript was accepted with the proviso I cut it down by one third. Other than an article I had published in the "Tasmanian Ancestry Journal" in 1998 I had never thought of having any of my writing published.
I had experienced a breakdown in the workplace in 1995. Once I was placed on stress leave I saw a psychologist to help deal with my posttraumatic stress symptoms. Unfortunately I was not responding to the therapy. More than the stress I suffered in the workplace, were vague, subconscious, unaddressed issues bubbling up from my past and working their way into the present. The catalyst for writing my book occurred a few years after I had been seeing a psychiatrist in 1999. By that stage I was showing signs of recovery. A key to my illness was the chance listening to a radio program called ‘Messages to Myself’ in 1997. It was about diaries people had kept over the years. Then I remembered my diaries, stored away, that I had written from the age of fifteen to twenty-four. Once I had located them, I read through the notebooks like wildfire. From the point of view of an adult and a mother I was flabbergasted to read how accepting I had been of my own mother’s cruel treatment. Although a torturous necessity, the revelations of the diaries allowed other long-forgotten memories to filter through.
During the following year a chance reading in the media about widespread abuse of Australian children who resided in institutions from the 1940s to the 1960s made me recall that I had resided in an institution called Nazareth House. I discovered that Nazareth House, Wynnum, Queensland - the so-called’ poor boarding school’ my mother had always called it - was listed as one those institutions where abuse occurred. As a child, and later an adult, whenever I brought up the subject of bad things that happened at the so-called ‘school’ my mother would become angry and refuse to discuss it. That was her most traitorous act in deception about my being placed in an orphanage in 1950.
In 1999 I had flown to Queensland with my husband George to check out Nazareth House for myself. When shown the register I recognised my mother’s signature by my name. Only then did I accept that I had resided at the Institution. This confirmed my worst fears – that in 1950 my mother had abandoned me in an orphanage when I was seven years old. On our return to Tasmania, over the phone, I confronted her with the information. All she said was: ‘I didn’t know’. She was so unconvincing in her comment. That was all she would say: no explanation- nothing!! There was a huge gap in my understanding of her actions. The only way I could find out more about my mother’s past was to research her family’s records. All I had to go by was a copy of her birth extract. With the knowledge gleaned from birth, death, marriage and divorce certificates I found a wealth of information about her past. With this knowledge I was able to link up the missing pieces in my mother’s life.
Finally I was able to pen my story. It’s a memoir specifically of childhood abuse at the hands of a bitter woman who resented being saddled with children. Nonetheless it is also a story of recovery and hope. This is not a gloom and doom narrative: it also describes moments of happiness and joy. It is also a social history of what it was like to live in Brisbane during the middle of the 20th century.
Primarily I wrote my story to help people like me who have suffered child abuse and to provide their families with an understanding of how the abuse can impinge on the next generation. I advise anyone who has suffered similar abuse to seek professional help because those deeply hidden scars may rise to the surface and impact on their lives and their loved ones.
A surprising number of people have told me that they never realised what happy childhoods they had until they read my book. They also said that they are sorry now that they took for granted growing up with loving and encouraging parents and wished that they had conveyed their sentiments to them earlier.
A photograph of my friend Peggy and me was taken mid January 1962 on our last day in Tasmania . it speaks volumes about our bliss.
Now I’ll read a joyful excerpt from chapter 21: ‘Thumbs’ Up in Tassie’.
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