On Thursday, along with my friend Barbara Davies, I travelled to San Remo to attend Amelia’s funeral. The journey, by public transport, took 2 hours and 58 minutes: first a train to Frankston, a bus to Cranbourne and then V-line coach to San Remo.
Others attended from further afield: Gippsland, Healesville, and Ballarat. A measure of the lives Amelia touched; her influence and legacy, and the high esteem in which she was held.
Although she has lived for over twenty years in Parkdale, Amelia was born in San Remo and has strong family connections there. Her sons John and Paul, felt it fitting she be buried where she was born and grew up – her life a full circle!
The wake held at Amelia’s childhood home which is now occupied by a niece.
When Barbara and I stepped off the coach directly opposite the little wooden church of St Augustine, I gasped. My eyes immediately drawn to the empty silver-grey hearse across the road. ‘Amelia must be already there,’ I whispered to Barbara.
Each grief reminds you of a previous one and flashes of other funerals and other hearses came to mind. Despite the warmth of a wonderful spring sun I felt chilled.
The deep azure sky mirrored in the blue sea stretching to Phillip Island, promised a day of brilliant sunshine. A day for enjoying the beach not attending a funeral.
As I watched the traffic speed by and cross the bridge I wondered how many gave even a second glance to the little church gleaming white in a new coat of paint, belying its 110 years of weathering the storms from the sea, and the countless upheavals of the hundreds of families in attendance over the century or more, of its service to the township.
Amelia was one of my writing students, first at Sandybeach Centre and latterly Mordialloc Neighbourhood House. For many years she attended Readings By The Bay, the public readings by Mordialloc Writers’ Group, often referred to as ‘The Prom lady’ because Wilson’s Promontory, a place she loved, was the subject of so many of her poems and stories.
Asked to read some of her poetry at the service I, of course, included The Spirit of The Prom. I can recall the day she wrote it in class and the discussion we had about the Aboriginal spirit Loo-Errn .
Spirit Of The Prom
Amelia Auckett 2004
I am the Prom
A sacred place
A place I love
Walking to Lilly Pilly Gully
On Christmas Day
Cicadas a symphony of sound
Piercing our ears
Yellow-tailed black cockatoos
Feasting on banksia seeds
Forest ravens dancing
Crimson rosellas a splash of colour
Mount Oberon, a guardian
Mount Bishop presiding over the Prom
Kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and emus
Wind bending the trees
Eleven rainbows viewed from Pillar Point
Within the space of an hour
I am the ocean
Its roaring sound
As breakers run up the beach
Then a soft sigh as they sink back to the sea
Oystercatchers scour the seashore
I am the silence
I am one with Loo-errn
The Spirit of the Prom
A kookaburra laughs
The Artist and the Nurse
Amelia was also a prolific artist and belonged to the Mentone-Mordialloc Art Group for several years and even mounted her own art exhibition. Her sons displayed many of her framed works at the church and invited everyone to take one or two pieces as mementoes.
A lovely gift to mourners who will now have a permanent keepsake – I chose a Prom painting but also one from Amelia’s time trekking in Nepal – another period of her life she shared with us in class.
When I went into the Tarkine wilderness, Amelia gave me the backpack she used when travelling ‘I won’t be needing it anymore,’ she said, ‘the Prom’s far enough for me to travel.’
Amelia’s son, Paul gave the eulogy and his voice reflected the pride in his mother’s achievements which include nursing, writing, painting, music and filmmaking. Her nursing career took her to Central Australia and Canada, and for 25 years she was the Maternal and Child Health nurse at Frankston, Victoria.
Extract From Amelia’s Memoir
When people look at me they see a Miss Marple type. A woman with wisdom gained over the years and a person with knowledge, a love for, and understanding of people. They are not surprised I decided to be a nurse when ten years old. After all, my mother was the Matron of the Deniliquin Hospital in NSW before she married at thirty-two. My eldest sister Mary was two years into her nursing training at the Austin Hospital, Heidelberg, Victoria. Nursing was in the family.
At the age of sixteen in June 1945, I started a twelve months Cadet Nursing course at the Eye and Ear Hospital, East Melbourne. It was an eventful year. The Americans dropped an Atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6th and a second bomb on the city of Nagasaki on August 9th. The cities were flattened, thousands of people died.
On August 15th 1945 the war in the Pacific ended when the Japanese surrendered. A large group of nurses, from the Hospital, including me, joined thousands of people in Swanston and Collins streets outside the Town Hall that evening, in joyful celebration. We hugged strangers, and each other, We danced, laughed and cried, feeling a great sense of relief. Shouts of, ‘The war is over!’ ‘Peace at last!’ rang out.
We look at older people and what do we see? Who do we see? When they share their stories, or others share them at milestone celebrations or funerals, it is surprising what historical events they have witnessed, what skills they have learned, and their achievements.
When she left an unhappy marriage, Amelia worked hard as a single mother in a time when divorce and single parenting did not have the understanding or support from society like they have today.
Always breaking new ground, she published a book and DVD on Baby Massage. This has been translated into many languages and is a standard fixture in Maternal and Child Health centres throughout Australia. She also wrote music and produced songs as lullabies and for relaxation. Her sons are proud of their mother’s many talents, achievements and unique gifts.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, Amelia came once a week and massaged my bald head and shoulders. She meditated with me – a peaceful interlude encouraging calm reflection and relaxation, and to focus on healing.
Claire from Ballarat told me how Amelia mentored her and other infant nurses. Claire helped update the baby massage book for Amelia when Infant Welfare clinics were rebranded. She said the baby massage book was revolutionary and innovative.
I remember using the technique with my daughters who were born in the 80s and how thrilled I was when Amelia joined my writing class in the 90s – although it took me a while to make the connection!
Amelia’s son, John has established a website for people to access Amelia’s work, including his mother reading two poems that he set to music. This recording was played during the service. No shuffling feet or rustling papers disturbed Amelia’s soft rhythmic tones as they filled the room. The Prayer of Thanksgiving followed, accompanied by a whispering sea breeze through the open side door.
Staring at the pine coffin adorned with a gorgeous display of flowers in various shades of purple, Amelia’s favourite colour, it was difficult to comprehend I wouldn’t see her again.
On the way to the cemetery, Amelia’s nephew Sam pointed out various places Amelia mentioned in her poems and talked with affection about her affinity with the Prom and her love of the natural environment.
San Remo cemetery is high on a hill with magnificent views as it overlooks the township and the sea. Prime real estate – the pioneers who chose the spot, chose well!
Amelia is descended from the famous Andersons of San Remo and was very proud of her connection to Scotland. Their graves are nearby.
On the way to the wake, Sam stopped at Amelia’s favourite beach and as I stood and listened to the lapping of gentle waves I remembered the stories Amelia told of growing up when San Remo was a fishing village, and how calm waters could also be treacherous. The sea claimed the lives of two of her brothers, including her twin.
Extract From Amelia’s Memoir
The beach was our playground. In the summer, June, Sam and I swam in the warm water, then lay on our towels on the warm sand, sheltered from the southerly breeze behind clumps of marram grass, in the sand dunes. We floated on our backs in the waters of the fast flowing flood tide, on the beach side of the sandbar, starting from opposite our house, then floated down to the pier. We would then walk back to our starting point and float down to the pier again, again and again. It was pure magic, like floating on air in another world.
Many years later, when our mother died, June and I stayed in her home ‘The Haven’ for a few days clearing the house. During that time we swam at the beach and floated down to the pier, again and again, capturing magical moments from our childhood.
As children we played houses on the beach, creating large rooms divided by very small sand walls, leaving gaps for doors and windows We gathered green lettuce seaweed and shellfish for make-believe food. In the cool weather, we took long walks around the beach, collecting shells and seeing sea anemones and small fish in rock pools.
I loved the space, the freedom, the sun, the blue skies, the glistening clear blue sea, the stormy days and the fun.
The Haven, an appropriate name for Amelia’s family home and after a scrumptious afternoon tea provided by the ladies of the church I was grateful Claire offered to drop Barbara and me home saving us a long wait (the return coach left at 7pm!) and a circuitous trip to Mordialloc.
Amelia never returned to class in July because she fell and fractured her hip but up until then, despite failing health she came by taxi every Monday morning and always gave me a hug when she left, saying, ‘Thank you for a lovely class.’
Hugs were a signature of any encounter with Amelia – I’ll miss them!