Many family secrets get taken to the grave. But for Heather Welsh, a stunning revelation about her grandmother solved a life-long mystery. And it gave her a deeper sense of what it means to be Australian.
‘At my mother’s funeral in 2009, our cousin told us that her father, our uncle, knew he was dying and said that he had something he needed to tell the family. He then shared the story that Grandma was of Aboriginal descent. It was something she wouldn’t let anyone know. He said as children, they weren’t allowed to have any friends home from school because they would find out. And Grandma didn’t want that to happen.
‘We just stood there with our mouths open! We always knew Grandma and Aunty Ada were different, but we didn’t know why. We didn’t have any association with Aboriginal people where we grew up in Mortdale Heights.’
‘What we did know was that Grandma was born at the end of the last century. At some stage, she was a cook at a sheep station. She met Grandpa, they got married and moved to Willoughby. But she made her children promise not to tell anyone she was Aboriginal.’
This unexpected news solved part of a puzzle that had always existed on one side of Heather’s family. ‘It made sense about a lot of things, like why we never knew anything about Grandma’s family at all. She never talked about it.’
Heather set out to discover more. Her father was alive at the time. She approached him at his nursing home, but he wouldn’t speak about it. ‘He’d made a promise to Grandma, and I respect that. I rang an organisation close to where we lived, but either my information wasn’t complete, or they just weren’t interested.’
So Heather’s inquiries went nowhere.
‘Each one of us has history, and it’s a good thing to share that.’
Although Heather still has questions about her heritage, she has largely made peace with not knowing. ‘It sits comfortably in me. If I’m of Aboriginal descent, then thank you, I feel very fortunate. I have a foot in both camps. On my father’s side, Aboriginal and on my mother’s side, First Fleet. So I’ve got a strong hold on this land! I take heart from the words of that song, “I am, you are, we are Australian.”’
Heather was proud to tell her story during NAIDOC week celebrations at the village. ‘Each one of us has history, and it’s a good thing to share that. I think it’s a matter of identity and our place in society. It’s a sense of belonging. Each generation leaves a little bit of themselves with us, and that culminates in us being who we are.’
Heather’s retirement community embraced her story. This is just another reason why she and her husband, Geoffrey, have enjoyed living in Rochford Place for many years.
‘This is a community of people who care for each other. If you’re in strife or trouble, there’s always someone you can go to who will help.’
‘We’ve made some absolutely wonderful friends, and we can share in the joys and the sorrows as they come along. It’s a real sense of community. My husband used to work in the retirement industry, and his comment was, “This is the best place for us.”’
‘This is a community of people who care for each other. If you’re in strife or trouble, there’s always someone you can go to who will help. And the staff here are absolutely amazing. The best staff anyone could ever have.
‘I’m thankful that we’re here and for the blessings we see every day.’
Learn more about Rochford Place, NSW.
For more information about the lifestyle and support offered at our retirement villages, call our customer service team on 1800 550 550.
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