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Tribute to Joan Wright

Posted here on the 90th anniversary of my mother's birth, 9 October 2010, and read at her memorial service in July 2010.

Firstly I would like to thank my cousin and childhood playmate Darryl for reading this tribute to my mother in my place. It is deeply painful for me that Tracey, Christian and I are not with you physically on this day. Those of you who know my circumstances understand why this is so, but we are very much there with you in spirit, and this is my tribute to her as her son. I would firstly like to thank Jan and Ken, Lyn and Terry, and John and Kay for playing such a large part in caring for her later in her life, and especially to Jan and Ken for being there utterly constantly for her and for us in the final months, as the end drew near. Her relative independence for most of her later life was due to them all - as well of course as her wonderful spirit and determination.

Our mother was mother to us all, right to the very end; grandmother, great grandmother, aunt and great aunt, sister and cousin. Her friends were numerous and close, and she was dearly loved by us all. She was a woman of extraordinary intelligence and compassion. Of the few things she hated, injustice and cruelty to all living things topped the short list. She will be remembered most for what she gave to us all without expectation of a reward, though she was almost always rewarded with love. For her, that was ample.

In her life she did amazing things, and no doubt others will add to the small sample I mention here.  She was the Grammar School educated teacher who went out into the bush and fell in love with the good looking local farmer.  She married and raised four children with him on our dairy farm. He was the youngest of 12, but her sisters and brothers in law, all older than she was, loved and respected her as one of their own, and she loved them too, with the special bond that exists in such families. She worked on the farm every day of the year in the dairy for six to eight hours a day at least, and helped our father with all manner of tasks - dipping cattle, mustering, fencing, battling droughts and floods, bushfires and snakes. When looking after us children, she would bring him tea and home-made scones [what other sort were there on a farm?] walking miles up the paddock with children to where he was working, and sharing that time with him. Every meal was a hot meal and somehow she managed to rear and educate 4 children, washing, ironing, all household chores - for many years without electricity or a car. And very little money for much of that time. How she did this I will never know; only country women in the same situation as she was in would really appreciate how difficult and exhausting that was. I can't help but think of Darryl's mother, Mum's youngest sister, our very much loved Aunty Audrey, who understood this so well from her own experience. But as children we rarely heard a word of complaint. On the contrary, she was cheerful and smiling, and shared with us our own little triumphs, and commiserated with us on our upsets or failures; she taught us our spelling and tables and geometry in the times when I imagine she would dearly love to have had a little time to herself.

A cataclysmic change to her life came with the sudden death of my father at the age of 49, when she was just 44 years old. I can only imagine the pain and anguish this event caused her, but out of it came an entirely new life for her. She sold the farm and moved into town and again became a teacher, living at our much-loved new home in Bayne St, Gladstone. I am sure others can narrate the stories of what she accomplished in teaching, librarianship, art and charitable activities, as there were a great number of these.

But I will limit myself to just one small example of my mother's character, which epitomises the person she was. She was not a religious woman in the conventional sense, though she took us to Sunday School and the religious services in Calliope, as she felt that these were good for us - and I believe they were. The rector at the time was a good and kindly man, and most of the little money he and his wife had was spent on providing food and shelter for the poor and downtrodden in the town, of which there were many. The Rectory house in Gladstone was thus in very bad shape, so Mum, as a long term Secretary of the Anglican Church Guild, determined to raise a little money to improve things at the Rectory. I was with her when she went to the Rectory to tell the Minister's wife that they had made enough money to buy some new curtains. I was too young to understand why the tears were there, but I vividly remember the streaming eyes of the hard working wife of the Minister, and her joy at being given an unexpected small reward for her many labours as the wife of a religious leader in the service of simple humanity.

My mother was not looking for a reward in Heaven; she just wanted to help the poverty-stricken rector's wife get real curtains instead of the painfully inadequate rags that were over the windows. That exemplifies her spirit and why she was loved by practically everyone who knew her.

Apart from our father, Jan, Lyn, Kay and I knew her best, because she was our mother. When we were growing up, Ken, Terry and John came to know her as well as we did, and they became her own children, and they loved and respected her likewise as their mother. When Tracey and Christian came into my life, Mum was thrilled to see me made happy again and welcomed them with open arms, a welcome that was returned in equal measure.

It was our privilege that she was our mother, and we loved her dearly for all she was, especially her tenderness and wisdom. She will always remain deep in our hearts as a living part of our being.

Denis Wright, her loving son.
9 July, 2010