Sunday, June 8, 2014


Thank you to everyone who has left such lovely comments on my last post and for those of you who have emailed me.
When writing it I had no intention of it being a sad thing. It's just part of my story and how I 'got into' being someone who makes and crafts things. Also, perhaps it explains part of being a creative person, that solitude often brings out the best work.
But perhaps also I need to add a bit to 'my story', perhaps clarify a few things.

Firstly Adoption is a very complex thing. It affects all involved in a different way. It also can be confronting for those who do not have an experience of it. In my experience people who have not had an encounter with an adoptee or know someone involved with adoption find it very hard to relate to it. You cannot apply normal logic to it. Its too big.

I think now that there has been a bit more 'media' on the adoption issue perhaps it is becoming a little easier to talk about rather than it being a big secret or taboo. Frankly I am relieved there is more talk about it all now, and also that it has been portrayed with a bit of humour too. I thank the writers and producers of 'Upper Middle Bogan' for that. That was a show I related to and had a really good and relieved laugh while watching it. It was as if they had been a fly on the wall of my situation.

Other 'stories' that are out there that are a lot less funny are 'Love Child' and 'Philomena'. They tackle some of the bigger issues of loss. Adoption creates situations of loss for all involved and is a constant reminder of it. But all those reality TV shows such as 'Find My Family' are not the norm. It is not happy endings. Trust me. Those shows only portray perhaps 5% of what it is like.

For me, and this is purely my experience, its not all happy endings. My story of adoption in not in that 5% and I can't see it getting much better anytime soon. I can laugh at quite a bit of it now and feel ok about some of it, but that was only after deciding that I had to not let it get to me and sort the shit out. I have not met one other adoptee that is totally ok about it or unaffected by it. If there are any out there, drop me a line, i'd love to meet you!

On the surface Adoption is good thing. And I do truly believe that it is if its done the right way. But it has taken a really long while for the powers that be work some of that out. Previously it was all a bit cloak and dagger and attached with loads of shame. But times have changed and being a single unwed mum does not have the same stigma attached as it did 40 years ago.

But my situation, and this is the only one that I can talk about with authority is as follows.
I was given up for adoption in the very early 70s by a 17 year old girl who was sent to the single mothers home by her mother.
I was assigned to a family but was returned for a few weeks as my adoptive mother was sick. I was left in the care of nurses at the single mothers home.
My name was legally changed and a new birth certificate was issued for me. The slate was wiped clean and I was taken home.
My first memories are all good, pretty normal I guess. It was not until I was told I was adopted when I was in Grade 2 that things went down hill. Thats when I realised I was different to everyone else, didn't look like my bother or mum and dad and felt like I was standing next to my life and wasn't in it.  To this day I think I was told too young and then it was never talked about. I felt scared, ashamed and that there was something wrong with me. Thats when I started to retreat. When the strange anxiety kicked in and when I just wanted to be alone. But, kids aren't meant to be alone are they. Loners are considered weird. I guess I just became the weird kid who loved books, lived for art class and ran away only to be dragged back again. By the time I made it to senior school I was knicking off at lunch time for a smoke with all the other 'alternative' kids. Strange kids tend to group together.  I was just the arty one who was a bit angry. But no one knew my secret as I never told anyone. Why I thought it was a big secret I don't know, but have found out much later that there were a few other adopted kids at school and I wish I knew them then.

My 20s were up and down. I was angry. I battled with identity. I didn't know who I was. I was doing what everyone else was. You were meant to be partying, hanging out in big groups, having fun. But I never enjoyed any of that. I liked being alone. I liked my own company. I became a closet knitter and sewer because that was weird wasn't it. So I just muddled my way through the best I knew how and sure I took wrong turns and made mistakes but when I turned 28 I made some big decisions, and learnt how to say no. I let go of many of my so called friends, those ones you have in your 20s that are only there for a good time, distanced myself from my family as I was tired of feeling like a constant disappointment and the title of black sheep was weighing me down and moved on.

That was when we moved up the coast. We bought our first house and we were a team. I had my own family. The one I chose. I was free. Making decisions I wanted to about my own life without the pressure from my family to be something I didn't want to be. Adopted kids often feel obligated to please, its part of the strange thing about needing to 'behave'.
This was also when I had the courage to start looking for my biological family and I had the full support of my partner to do so.
So I started the first step and lodged for my paperwork.
We finally got an appointment. In the months prior to the appointment you need to do counselling. I did all that. I hated it. I'm not good in group situations. There was too much pain in those sessions. Even though I could relate to it, I found that through whatever was in me, I didn't want that to be me.

The day I got my paperwork is like a scene from 'Upper Middle Bogan' its when I wigged out, had strange vision and was not far off. My biological mothers name was 'Cheryl'. Yep my bio mum was a Schazza. I had the vision of the middle aged woman in a pink tracksuit with a patchwork leather hand bag, gold jewellery and smoking a fag. A bit Kath and Kim style... And when I met her, I was not far off. She even lived in the suburb where they filmed that show!

Now, I was raised pretty strict, went to an elite private school, went to uni, owned a house, travelled, worked hard, had a good job all those sorts of things. I was not what she was expecting either.
I went from one fire to another. From one set of expectations of who I was meant to be to another.
My relationship with my bio mum is non-existent. I think its better that way. She blames me for ruining her life and will tell anyone over a bottle of vodka who cares to listen. On top of that there were far too many lies. From my paperwork being completely made up to never a straight answer. To this day she still refuses to tell me who my father is and will not let me have any contact with any family members. Thankfully my bio brother told her where to go and we have a friendship and I have now met an aunt who left home and hand nothing to do with my bio mum since she was 17.

Last year my bio brother tracked down this long lost Aunt. He has been on a crusade to find out who my dad is. My 'bro' is a good bloke. He was raised by his dad and not by our bio mother.  Also think he dodged a bullet. Our other sister is a write off, drug and alcohol problems, and we have one other sister who is 15 but I have not been able to meet her yet. My bother gives me updates on her. I just hope she stays at school and keeps out of trouble. I don't take after any of these other siblings. We don't have much in common, and I don't think we look alike either, so I must take after my father.

Last year we had a lead on who my father could be. My Aunt remembered some things. We tracked him down and found him about 15 kms from where I lived. I found some of his kids. They thought there was another kid, and it looked like it was me. Finally, did I have the last piece of the puzzle? I plucked up the courage and sent the contact letter. He didn't reply. One of his daughters talked to him and he agreed to meet me. He said that no, I wasn't his but he did know who I was. But also that trying to find my father would be opening up some 'dark doors'.

We have one other lead, but have no way of following it up. The lead is a bad man. One involved in organised crime in Carlton in the early 70s. But unless my bio mother or bio grandmother talks, we have no way of knowing and they have both said they are taking it to the grave. So I will probably never know who he is. But that could all be lies too. None of this has been straight forward.

But the things I do know are this:
My mum and dad are good people and they are my 'mum' and 'dad'. Always will be. And I love them. They have done what they think is best for me in their own way. Wether or not I agree is another thing, but I am old enough to make my own decisions now and its my life.

There will always be a strange connection between nature and nurture.

Always be kind as you never know what is going on in someone else's life even if it looks ok from the outside.

Everyone has a story. And mine is nothing compared to other people I have met. It is only a scratch.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Stitching My Story

I have an opening address to prepare for the Essendon Quilters Show on the 4th to 6th of July. The theme of their show is 'Stitching Our Stories'.
In preparing for this and in writing my speech from an historical and social context about this theme, it has made me think about my own story and my own relationship with 'stitching'. My own process of working with my hands and what it means to me.

There were circumstances as a child that made things difficult for me. They were things beyond my control that made me awkward and unsocial. Things I didn't fully understand that made me retreat into my own solitary world. I arrived late on the scene. I was adopted. Everyone else around me had younger parents and grandparents. Mine were a good 20 years older than theirs, with very old fashioned views. Children were seen and not heard. The adoption thing was always skirted about and never really talked about, but in my head I thought I had to behave or I would be sent back. It was complicated never being able to talk about things that I didn't understand.  Part of that world I absorbed myself in was making things. It was solitary and quiet. Something I could master and learn. Something that was mine. It kept me out of trouble.

I taught myself to knit after watching my step nan on my Dads side knit. She was a test knitter for Patons. I had to teach myself as no one wanted to teach a left hander. They didn't have the time. The first thing I made was a little Australian flag. I was really proud of that. I worked it out myself from a book from the Library.
I was looked after a lot by my grandmother as my mum had times when she was very unwell. My Nan was a professional dressmaker for society ladies. She cut her teeth in the trade in work rooms in Collins Street in the 1930s and 40s. Then she set up a work room at home. Always scraps to play with but I was never allowed to touch anything. It's a terrible trade the 'rag trade' you don't want to work in it she would say. I never really listened to her. My early taste of rebellion and being stubborn. She was a stern and formidable lady, she loved me in her own old-fashioned way. She made it to 99.5 years. I still think she was hanging out for that letter from the Queen.

My dad always saw that I was making things. He bought me my first sewing machine when I was 13. I taught myself to sew from books, patterns and fabric from the op-shop and lots of trial and error. I think my mum never really approved of what I made. It was the early 90s and I was pretty grungy.  She kept trying to buy me nice pretty dresses. I've never really got the hang of the dress. I live in my skinny jeans and dark colours. Every now and again she will get me something from Country Road and she will push the envelope by it being in a colour other than black, grey or white. I'm learning to play the game. We are getting better at it. She finds me nice things in black now and didn't bat an eyelid at my wedding dress being black. Its funny how your relationships change as you get older.

In my early 20s sewing was my expression and fashion. Being a uni student and living out of home I was pretty broke. My best friend and I would go on mega op-shop hauls. We would tag team in our 'beaters' the first cars and go off and find all sorts of amazing stuff. We loved the old ladies who looked after the shops. My earliest taste of collecting stories. They liked it that we could sew. They would keep stuff for us as they knew we would be back. Todays op-shops aren't patch on how they used to be. One of my favourite finds was a mint dark denim Levis trucker jacket for 50 cents. I wore that to death. Or finding full length suede over coats for a few dollars. And the Fabric! Oh my god, AMAZING. Let us just say, I had a bug. And with tip money from waiting tables at a pizza joint, it felt like a million dollars worth of booty. And I hoarded. The earliest taste of 'she who dies with most wins'. I was a WINNER.

After 10 years in Melbourne my partner and I decided to pack up and move to sunnier climes. Packing that removal truck, half was boxes of fabric. It was a bit embarrassing, but my partner, now my husband was always very tolerant of it, not sure he liked it. I was a bit bored and out of sorts living in the country in a very small community that was a bit suspicious of 'city folk'. This was also a time when the internet was only just taking off and freelance design work was tricky to do living so remote. When my partner was working I'd jump in the car and go off road tripping picking up bits and pieces in the inland country towns and adding them to my collection. While living there I made vintage bikinis out of 1960s fabrics and sold them at the local surf shops. I called it 'Keenie'. It kept me out of trouble. After 2 years we came back and tried to settle back to life in Melbourne but it never really suited us. I went back to random and freelance design jobs and he went to work on boats. A different chapter of our lives began.

I have to say I have been incredibly lucky to have seen so much of the world and I would not have been able to do half of it if it wasn't for my partner and his work. I have done so much travel on my own as well. I spend loads of time on my own as his work would take him half way around the world at a moments notice.
My interests take me to places where I can learn and see. Solo travel is an amazing luxury. I have been able to spend whole days in the one gallery or museum. Wander the streets I want to just looking at buildings and people watching. Eating snacks and drinking coffee. Finding a length of fabric or trim in the flea markets, an old set of keys or a book. Seeing different details.
Now my husband is in the Navy, another title I have is 'Navy Wife'. So again, I spend a lot of time on my own. Having such a love of sewing, fabric, quilts and knitting and everything in between is my thing. I can while away hours on the one project and wonder where the time goes. I can get so engrossed in folding my stash, remembering each piece and where it was found or who it came from. Each one of my fabrics has a story. I 'find' my fabrics or they cross my path. I travel and I seek them out. The connections I make with kindred sprits are some of the most amazing moments be they small or large that I have had. A kindness or a smile about a similar interest. A memory or a handing down of a tip or story. I have been given fabrics that belonged to someones great grandmother and they want me to have them as they know I will love them. Even today a lady rang me and asked for my address to send me a quilt that she wanted me to have. She had met me once and remembered me. Its things like this that are embedded in 'my story'. But the 'thread' that links this is a literal thread. Be it spun or woven, stitched or knitted, it is stitched into who I am.  This is my story.