Aunty Hazel

I was humbled to be asked to write and deliver the Eulogy for my dear Aunt, who died recently. Her funeral in August was cancelled when a Covid lockdown was imposed, so family and friends finally gathered in November for her Memorial Service.

Adie Hazel Southwell (Reid)

21 October 1928 – 5 August 2021

As a child, the red sands of an ancient land trickled through her tiny fingers, in the country of the Jawoyn people of the Northern Territory. Now, her ashes mingle with the dust from Ngunnawal country, her final resting place. We respect the traditional owners of these lands and acknowledge that Hazel walked in their footsteps.

Adie Hazel Reid was born at Maranboy on 21 October 1928. The story of her parents, Robert and Enid, as written by Hazel in later years, is a story of love, commitment, perseverance and faith. Their life in the remote police districts of the Northern Territory, and Hazel’s upbringing within such a framework, have left us, generations later, with an understanding of what made her such an amazing woman. Truly an example for those who have followed.

Hazel’s sister Margaret was born at Katherine in May 1931 and her much loved younger brother David, made his first appearance, to quote from Hazel’s writing, “in a real hospital, in May 1940, in Darwin”. This signalled an end to years of being stationed at outposts throughout the Territory, it meant a finish to correspondence lessons and finally, enrolment in a normal school, with music and classmates. It thankfully meant there would be no more frequent, lengthy absences, when Hazel’s father Robert, was off on patrol. It finally gave her mother Enid relief from the years of tutoring and solitary parenting.

But we need to refer to Hazel’s writings again to read her humble and heartfelt recognition of the role the aboriginal people played in her early upbringing. “My strongest recollections were of the Aborigines that became part of our extended family. (Remember too that we had no other children to play with.) The trackers became friends, companions day in and day out, and we grew up respecting them as individuals as well as their expertise in bushcraft. The many lessons learnt from them, when I was so young, have remained with me all my life”.

Unfortunately this stability and comfort did not last, and in December 1941, with barely 24 hour’s notice, Enid Reid and her three children were evacuated from Darwin aboard the Zealandia, together with some 250 injured soldiers, 300 Japanese internees and their guards, and 600 fellow evacuees. Reading Enid’s account of this journey is harrowing, but learning that Hazel and Margaret faced another 3 years of separation while they attended boarding school in Toowoomba, shows us the reality of growing up during those fear-filled, war years. In 1944 the family was re-united when Robert Reid accepted a position with the ACT Police Force and transferred from Alice Springs to the nation’s young Capital.

Hazel was only 16, her sister Margaret 13, and little brother David only 4, when they arrived in Canberra, but it meant they were together as a family once more. Hazel’s early experiences, unique education, love of music and literature, saw her more than adequately equipped to embrace the challenges of this completely new life. But it was her unerring faith and belief in God’s plan, that saw her blossom in her new surroundings, and all of us here are the richer for acknowledging the part it played in her life.

The family became very involved with the nearest Presbyterian Church, St Columba’s at Braddon. Enid Reid played the organ regularly and her two daughters taught Sunday school. Hazel attended Canberra High School then did a Business Course at Technical College before joining the public service as a Junior Secretary with the Department of War Service Homes. Through this job she met Bill and Jean Lancaster ….. and her life took a completely new path.

At an “after tennis tea”, Hazel met Jean’s brother, a young, tall, handsome John Southwell – it was 1947. She was nearly 20 when they married the following year in 1948 and in some strange twist of fate, worthy of any novel, John’s older brother Mack had also wooed and wed his bride Ursula Lynch, only the year before. Both Hazel and Ursula were the daughters of high-ranking policemen and both came to call the family farm, Rosevale, their home. That old farm site is just up the road from where we are seated this morning, and while suburban houses have grown defiantly out of those original paddocks, St Ninian’s stands steadfast. From these windows you can see where Hazel spent many years of her married life and even during her final months at the Sir Leslie Moreshead Home, the proximity of her beloved church gave her great comfort.

Hazel and John started their married life living in the new suburbs of O’Connor and Braddon, and welcomed their daughter Kerrie into the world in 1949, with Glen being born in 1951 and Kim in 1953. When Mack and Ursula Southwell acquired property near Hall and left Canberra, Hazel, John and their young family, moved from Limestone Avenue into Rosevale, and shared the old residence with John’s widowed mother, Jane. Hazel fondly wrote: “so began my life as a farmer’s wife. I was very lucky that my mother-in-law was a great housekeeper, a wonderful gardener and exceptional cook, and became my mentor as she welcomed me warmly into her home and family.”

Much to Hazel’s delight her children became part of a close-knit group of cousins, and many memories are centred around celebrations and get-togethers beneath the old pine trees, on the verandah or in the surrounding paddocks ….. always under the watchful eye of ‘Nan’, ‘Granny’ or ‘Gran’, as Jane senior was known. There is no doubt Kerrie and Ross, if they were here today, would confirm the antics and adventures of Jenny, Kay, Jane, John, Glen and Kim as the problems of the world were discussed and solved in the branches of the old fig tree, at the side of the original pise home. Christmases were special and even larger gatherings took place, with extended family, new in-laws and the latest cousins being included.

Aunty Hazel, as I always called her, was special to me, so perhaps you will allow me to take a moment to personally reflect on her sense of humour, compassion, faith and wisdom.

We talked during one visit about what it was like to be a mother in those days of great change after the war. I asked her was she a cuddly sort of Mum, did she dish out the hugs, demonstrate sentimentality. I was not surprised by her response, as it answered a lingering question from my own childhood about restrained affection. “No, I suppose I wasn’t, it was the way things were, so much was expected of women after the war, we needed to demonstrate that we were capable, and not just mothers”. In this personal insight, Hazel was sharing something so important to me and teaching me a lot about myself.

We also had another incredible bond – we had both lost a daughter and there were days when I popped in to see her and I could tell straight away she was having a “Kerrie day”. Often we would just sit there holding hands, letting the shared tears quietly fall, until the sadness passed.

But there were plenty of visits where we laughed and the memories that prompted the hilarity will keep me smiling.

For example, her venture into home brewing at a time when science and recipes should have aligned, but the resultant, non-alcoholic ginger beer proved the opposite. After successfully producing many bottles, Aunty Hazel upsized capacity into demi johns. Only to hear, some days later, loud explosions coming from the meat house and see sizeable holes punched through the walls. On another occasion, her attempts to introduce me to the finer points of dancing “strip the willow”, at a Scottish ball in the Albert Hall, came to nought, as I had a serious wardrobe malfunction amongst the swirling kilts, and fled, Cinderella-like, from the dance floor. Even reminiscing together over washing that wretched cream separator, misplacing a cone or two and facing reprimands from Granny, had us both grinning.

Hazel’s faith was exemplary and she gave me a book of writings by William Barclay. I would call her on Sunday mornings and read short passages to her, then when Covid hit, I would include them in little blog posts. We sometimes discussed those readings but it was ages before I plucked up the courage to tell her about what it had been like for me growing up as a Catholic. As a young child, I could not understand how everyone could be praying to God, but we used different words and went to different Churches. My cousin Kerrie (Hazel’s daughter) taught me a night prayer during an era when it was frowned upon to even attend each other’s services. We shared that prayer under the blankets in Kerrie’s room when I was probably only ten. I have never forgotten it, I have taught it to my children, and recite it now with my grandchildren, but I only told Aunty Hazel about it earlier this year, as I had been reading more from her Territory memoir. She had written: “the visiting clergy of all denominations would be given overnight hospitality in our home. Being introduced to their formal religious services proved a grounding for my sister and me in religious tolerance. As children of the Northern Territory, our baptisms were carried out by the first minister to arrive at our house after each birth. Consequently of the 3 Reid children, one was christened Anglican, one Methodist and one Presbyterian!”

Hazel enjoyed quite a reputation for her needlework skills, and framed examples of her work, grace the walls of the homes of family members. I remember going back to live at the farm, Rosevale, in the few months before my own wedding in 1973, because I had embarked on a rather insane project to crochet my wedding dress out of merino wool. My grandmother, Jane senior, kept me on task, but a highlight of those months was joining Hazel and the family each evening to watch Bellbird on tv then settling in to some serious craftwork as needles, and hooks wove their magic. A few years later, dear Hazel produced beautiful smocked dresses for my little girls. I still have the one she made for Lisa-Jane and brought it with me today.

Some special personal memories indeed, but let’s continue…..

Hazel returned to the workforce in the 60’s and was employed in several interesting jobs. As Glen relates, her tenure with the Churchill Trust paid off handsomely for her brother David. Boxes of Henschke wine had been distributed amongst staff in the office by an excited Fellowship winner, and as Hazel and John weren’t drinkers, their gifted bottles were stored in the back pantry at Rosevale. David successfully negotiated with his sister to “purchase” the wine ….. at its original price of $1 per bottle. Deal done and contents eventually consumed. One of those bottles today sells for over $2,000.

Kim confirms what we all know – his mother was a keen gardener and loved roses. Her little patio garden at the nursing home benefitted from Hazel’s plantings, and when her beloved John died in 2005 she had a rose dedicated to his memory for planting in the revamped rose garden at Old Parliament House.

Hazel’s tv viewing during her last months included watching the first days of the Olympic Games from Tokyo – far removed from her primary school days in Darwin, when Japan entered the Second World War. She recalled in notes to her grandchildren: “Our primary school was quite large, catering for all nationalities – the children of Chinese and Greek merchants, as well as those of Japanese and Malay pearl divers, but there were no aboriginals allowed in the schools in those days. I remember when the Military Police arrived at the school and all the Japanese children were taken out of class and put into a concentration camp with their parents. It was very scary for us children.”

She went on in other writings to acknowledge how her father Robert’s example, taught his children to “tolerate all religions and races, and appreciate all peoples for what they contribute to the world”. Admirable qualities, that in the fifties and sixties would see Hazel watch on as many post war Australians struggled to forgive and reconcile with the Japanese. Bill Lancaster, (her sister-in-law Jean’s husband), was instrumental in bringing the mother of a Japanese submariner to Canberra as part of that reconciliation process. His determination, in the face of stiff opposition, marked a turning point that would eventually allow Hazel, in July 2021, to watch on as Japan hosted competitors in peace and friendship, from all around the world.

History accompanied Hazel during her life journey – she lived through a world war, she saw men land on the moon. Her younger years witnessed great social change and in maturity she embraced technology as it opened new doors for her. The grandchildren she adored, guided her as she negotiated modems and the latest apps. “You’ve got mail” no longer meant a trip to the letterbox and yes, there actually is a Facebook page, for the police station at Maranboy.

The current worries in our lives can seem overwhelming and we doubt our capacity to make sense of it all, let alone move forward with any confidence. But here we can so easily turn to the example Hazel has left us through a life well lived. Her determination and faith when dealing with the tragedy of being pre-deceased by her sister Margaret, her husband John, her brother David, her daughter Kerrie and her daughter-in-law Chris, are benchmarks of resilience, that will stand us all in good stead.

So Glen and Kim, Mathew, Adam, Amy, Angela, Rob, John, Yuani and Zac, please know that my words barely introduce a few of the chapters that make up the book of Hazel’s life. You know so much more than I do, you have walked with her, you have been loved by her. Rita and Wendy, Paul and Trish, dearest Irene and Jim, you are joined by numerous nieces, nephews, extended family and friends – we are all here together because of one remarkable woman. There are many who could not attend and there are those who have gone before Hazel and who are now enjoying the delights of her company. To her cherished great grandchildren, Mia, Luca, Mason, Malleo, Michael, Aaron, Jayden, Sasha, Brianna and Ariah, Hazel has left an outstanding example of how to live and love through good and not so good times. This legacy is your future, her story is yours to keep.

My last two visits with Aunty Hazel were tough, any conversation was one way, responses were limited and holding hands was the best way to share togetherness. I prayed aloud and sometimes quietly in tears, that it might all end for her. As I think of her again today, while we join together in her memory within the stone walls of the chapel she loved so much, I know my prayers were answered.

Memorial Service Eulogy

St Ninian’s Uniting Church Canberra

5 November 2021

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