Monday, 22 July 2013

Goodbye and Rest in Peace, My beautiful Gran!

This is the eulogy that my cousin Ang and I wrote and presented in tribute to our beloved Gran at her funeral on the 26th June 2013.  She passed away a week earlier on the 19th June in Melbourne after a short illness that she fought head on with a level of determination, hope and selflessness that I can barely fathom.  Gran was amazing, right to the very end of her wonderful life.  She was the inspiration behind my decision to record her father Jim Cowey's story and Gran's example will continue to inspire me and spur me on until it is completed.  
I will always miss you, Gran.  I will always love you.  XOXOXOXO
We are here to celebrate the life of our Gran, Marj. It was so lovely to hear the reflections from her family just now. It's not at all surprising that Marj was loved so deeply and so dearly by us all. But what is surprising is just how much she fit into her life, the things she achieved and experienced and how rich her life was. Marj was a person who quietly went about things, and we hope today to shed some light on her time on Earth.

Marj lived in the Mallee for the majority of her life and was so at home here, some may actually not know she was born in Melbourne. She came into the world on the 26th May 1921, and she was nearly born in a Melbourne icon. Marj said her mother was travelling by tram when she went into labour and things were moving along rather quickly. Apparently Marj's mother was quite close to delivering right there and then, even as the tram lurched and dinged along Flemington Road that late autumn day. But her mother was able to get to hospital in time, avoiding a public birth!

It may surprise most of you to learn that Marj was actually a fourth cousin to the Queen, through the Queen mother's family. But more importantly to Marj, she was the eldest daughter of Annie and Jim Cowey. She was born after her elder brother, who died when he was 15 days old, but Marj was always “the eldest”. The Cowey family lived at a little home at George's Road in The Patch in the Dandenong Ranges. In time, Marj would be joined by her siblings Meg, Jim, Dave, Joan and Bruce. They all lived together on an 18 acre farm that produced market produce such as apples and berries, and a wide variety of vegetables and fruit they would eat themselves or barter for other goods. They also had cows, chickens, horses and pigs, as well as pets.

Gran far right
Marj's earliest memory was as a tiny girl sat upon her father's knee. She would place her little fist in a deep hole in her father's forearm, a scar from a severe gunshot wound he received at Gallipoli. Marj would sleep in this position, feeling secure in his arms. She also remembered him crying out in the middle of the night when his dreams haunted his sleep. His war service affected the whole family.

Gran (L) and her sister Meg holding Young Jim
Marj and her siblings all went to school at Kallista, 2 ½ miles from The Patch. The children would walk to and from school everyday, rain, hail or shine. The girls would take the direct route while the boys always went the back way, getting up to mischief and almost always facing the strap when they turned up to school late. Marj said the girls wouldn't let her play basketball due to what they saw as her unfair height advantage, so she had to join in with the boys and play cricket. In addition to the 3Rs and sport, Kallista students would participate in outdoor education: the boys would grow vegetables, while the girls would grow flowerbeds.
Gran (L), Dave, Meg, Joan and Bruce.  Love the piglets!
It was her early years at school, and at home on the farm, that Marj's love for nature and the outdoors was born. You can understand why when you visit the Dandenongs and see how beautiful it is with it's towering Mountain Ash and tree ferns underneath. The forest was alive with the calls of kookaburras and the gurgling of streams rushing through the gullies and it really was an idyllic place to grow up and explore. When she was 12, Marj wrote in to the junior pages of The Argus newspaper. She told a story of when she dropped some bread near a dam and a frog jumped out quickly joined by ½ a dozen more. Some days on the walk home from school Marj and the kids would visit their cousins and play but if they were home later than 5 o'clock they would miss out on tea. They quick soon cottoned-on to this punishment and filled their school bags with apples beforehand. But if their father went out to a meeting, their mother Annie would sneak a meal to her children. Other days Marj would carry home a Hessian bag of bones from the butcher and they would scrape the meat off them to make a meal, as they did not have very much meat to eat. But Marj always considered her family lucky. During the depression years they had the food they had grown themselves to survive, where others did not.

L-R: Meg, Joan, Bruce, Gran, David and Young Jim
After school, Marj put her own prospects aside to support and work as a partner on her father's farm at The Patch. It is true that without her labour, the farm would not have ran, as her father could not manage it alone with his post-WW1 issues. Quite literally he would down tools and go bivouac in the hills for days on end, attempting to protect his family from the Germans he thought were lurking there. Marj was the consistent worker who kept the farm ticking over for the family. As the younger ones grew they too would take on work. But Marj carried a particularly heavy burden without complaint. The famous author Jeannie Gunn who wrote “We of the Never Never” was a Cowey family friend. She fought on behalf of the family to receive a larger pension from the Army and in her submission described Marj as a “fine self-sacrificing girl” who was effectively doing all the heavy work on the farm herself.

Gran in the Land Army
Marj, like her father and brothers, actively served her country during WW2. She wasn't able to join the Navy which was her first choice, and she tried to join the Army at Victoria Barracks but she was referred to the Women's Land Army. She enlisted and ended up working on farms for two years during WW2, replacing the man power lost due to the men fighting overseas. Her first deployment was at Holt's farm in Sale where Marj was responsible for maintaining 20 pigsties but also other jobs like treating any flyblown sheep. She was then assigned to a dairy farm at Heyfield. Marj quick soon realised that she didn't like milking cows. She deliberately took her time at the job and her Manager quipped “It will be time to start milking again by the time you've finished this lot!!”. But her strategy worked and she was put in charge of scrubbing the cream cans instead of milking. She had a horse at this farm called “Major” and she dearly loved the animal.

It was during her last placement at an orchard in Pakenham that she heard some terrible news. Her brother Jim, who was serving in the RAAF No. 18 NEI Squadron, was missing, presumed dead, when his plane was shot down by the Japanese over Indonesia. Before the war and throughout their childhood, Jim and Marj were very close. They used to go out often and together they attended light opera productions at the Princess Theatre or the Plaza in Melbourne's CBD, where Marj remembered the ladies used to hang their shawls over the balconies while they enjoyed the show. Jim was a special sibling and friend to Marj and his death came as a heavy blow to her.

After WW2, Marj travelled to England and ended up living there for 2 ½ years. She went over as a chaperone to a young English girl who was sent to Australia during the war, but was not happy when this girl ditched her at the docks in favour of a young man who was waiting for her. Marj should have looked up her 4th cousin, but instead she visited the family of a penpal. Marj found work mainly as a kitchen hand to earn a means to get by, but in her time off would visit the English branches of her family and she also enjoyed the opening night of “The Merry Widow”.  Marj was called home again to help her father on the farm in 1947. On the journey back to Australia, her ship stopped at Port Said where she ate sweetbreads and had her first taste of native coffee. She later took in the Botanical Gardens at Colombo where she was struck by the number of beggars with crippled legs. 
Once settled back in Australia, her sister Meg asked Marj to travel up north to make her wedding dress. Meg was teaching in the Pier Milan School and was about to marry Harry McErvale. It while she was in the Mallee that Marj met her future husband Allan Stacey. Allan was from Myall, west of Sea Lake, and he owned a block of land in the area but also lived with the McErvale family for a time. Not long after Marj and Allan met, for some reason Marj decided she was going to relocate to Sea Lake. She found a steady job at Lamara's Cafe in town, and we have heard reports that Allan quick soon become a regular customer!

In 1950, Marj and Allan married at the The Patch and their wedding was the first in the new church there.

Marj made a particularly grand entrance, one that made the pages of The Sun newspaper. The wedding car couldn't make it up the hill after a heavy rain and the congregation had to push the car up to the church so she could meet her sweetheart at the altar.

After their honeymoon in the Spa Country at Daylesford, Marj and Allan made a home together farming at Sea Lake. Together they would have 2 children: Marjorie Jean and Kenneth Allan.

The Stacey family
Gran was always a very hard worker, an outdoors woman. She was involved in all aspects of farm life at Sea Lake. She would help out around the paddocks, in the sheep yards and manage the bookwork. Along with this, she also made delicious lunches and smoko for the shearers, bringing the bounty down to the shearing shed in her large basket, dressed in her boots, work pants, blouse and wide brimmed hat, most times with her apron on.
Mum has fond memories of the amazing flowers Gran grew, especially in the early days at the farm. The sights and smells of her freesias, daffodils, annuals, stocks and bulbs - many influences from the Dandenongs – were something to behold. Gran would thoughtfully pick a posy of flowers when they were at their best and give them to her family or friends when she dropped in to visit.

Gran and Dar have always been avid gardeners, dedicating about ½ acre to their vegie patch. There were more than 15 varieties of fruit trees and vines, along with over 30 different seasonal crops, including sunflowers and peanuts. It was like a market garden, the fruit and vegetables it yielded were incredible. As grandkids we used to walk along the huge branches of the mulberry tree picking the berries for Gran’s kitchen, returning with purple feet, hands and mouths! We loved to sample the produce, learn about the growing processes and play in Gran's hothouse, the dirt scraping under the sliding door. Gran would propagate plants, raise seedlings and always have a cutting in water on the window sill. She liked to shared her crop with others, sending people home with fresh, stewed or preserved fruit and vegetables to enjoy.

At the heart of the Stacey family home was Gran's kitchen. Jars crowded every available surface to preserve all her fruit, jams and pickles. There would always be something on the stove or in the oven. Her lamb stew with pearl barley, boiled fruit cake, stewed fruit and custard, raspberry slice and the famous “Willie cake”, are all warm reminders of Gran. She would always have the radio playing in the kitchen- in the early years it was the sound of the serial “Blue Hills” that Mum and Uncle Ken remember, The Country Hour was sacred and all the reports were listened to intently. More recently Gran and Dar listened to Macca on Sunday mornings, and the cricket and footy were always of interest, especially when Sydney Swans were playing.
After we placed a plaque on Gran's father Jim Cowey's grave in Sea Lake in 2010.  With siblings Joan and Dave and 39th Battalion veterans Alan Moore, Harry Barkla, Peter Holloway, Don Daniels, John Akhust and George Cops.  
I'm glad I got to share this day with Gran and the 39th!
Gran was so interested in things – her knowledge was wide and varied on so many topics. As a child it felt like you could ask Gran anything and she’d know the answer – like the nesting habits of birds or how to tie a certain knot? This knowledge was gained from her personal life experiences and also her love of reading and writing. There were always piles of reading material in the lounge. She was an avid reader and subscriber to the Readers Digest, Australian Geographic, farming journals, Weekly Times and various craft series. Gran was a great letter writer, enjoying correspondence from 22 penfriends over the years, including Catherine Rothchild from America, Ruth Cowey in Texas and Grace in England. One was unable to speak English but that didn’t stop Gran writing and learning more about different cultures, with the help of an interpreter. All of these things contributed to Gran’s vast knowledge. Only a few weeks ago when visiting Gran, she could instantly recall the quantities and tips for making quince jam, and that Melbourne cup was the perfect time to plant pumpkins. Gran was like a walking encyclopaedia with her knowledge on all things plants, sewing, cooking, preserves, craft, well, most things really.
Handmade gifts from Gran to treasure
 Gran was very skilful when it came to handicrafts. She encouraged us grandkids to learn these skills – craft, leatherwork, knitting, carpentry, patchwork and sewing. I remember Gran helping us make rag dolls when we visited, then stitching little clothes for them to wear. She even helped us make patchwork curtains for the cubby house. There were grey camp blankets, edged, with our initials on them; matching tracksuits when we were little and ‘quillows’ as we grew older. Gran even sewed Mum’s first pair of bras! There were always bits of material around that we could make something with.

Gran was heavily involved with local community work. She was an active member of the Country Women’s Association (CWA) and was secretary of the local branch of the Victorian Farmers Union during some tough farming years (and was also the only female member). Gran and Dar were key members of the Sea Lake Croquet Club – investing countless hours as umpires, players, and administrators – at various levels of competition. They would always encourage the younger generations to learn the game they loved.

Son Ken in Cub uniform at The Patch
Gran played a pivotal role in the Girl Guides movement, being a local guide leader and District Commissioner. She would regularly drive guides and leaders to meetings and help organise and attend Jamborees. Gran would prepare lots of equipment for camps, help new girls with uniforms, spend hours measuring and organising drop sheets, ropes, and kit bags in preparation for camps. Uncle Ken and Mum were very active in the Cub, Scouts and Guiding movements due to Gran’s involvement and encouragement.

Both Gran and Dar would see to it that Mum and Uncle Ken could travel to the Jamborees but also go on family trips to places like Wyperfield National Park to practice their outdoor skills and explore nature. As a family, they would also holiday every year visiting places of interest all over Victoria. Usually the holiday would last a couple of weeks, and they would always end their trips at The Patch where the caravan was parked under the cherry plum trees and they spent time with their extended family. A more recent highlight for Gran and Dar was travelling to Darwin and also an overseas trip to New Zealand where they had a wonderful holiday together touring all around the country and bringing home a mountain of photos to share the trip.
Gran and her brother and sisters Dave, Joan and Meg.
In later years Gran and Dar joined the Sea Lake Senior Citizens Club. They found particular enjoyment in performing with the all-singing, all-dancing ‘EverGreens’. It’s not everyday you have a 6 foot, green-legged dancing leprechaun on stage performing with a Cheshire cat grin – but that was our Gran!  She really enjoyed being jovial and having a good time.
The famous Leprechaun!
Gran playing the Squatter in one of her many performances!
Gran had a strong belief in God and was a faithful servant throughout her life. She cared about people and raised their concerns to make their lot better in life. Gran was a lay preacher and was a regular participant in bible discussion groups. Gran and Dar enjoyed going to the annual Sea Lake family church camp in Halls Gap, continuing to attend right up until last year. This was a special time catching up with the wider church family. Gran enjoyed the company of the young in age and the young at heart, equally. It wasn’t uncommon to see Gran sitting at the tables at Norval playing Rummikub, doing a jigsaw puzzle or teaching one of the young ones how to knit. She enjoyed the songs, the discussions, the beautiful scenery and the friendships.
Gran & Dar holding hands during a hike at Halls Gap, on Church Camp.
In 2007, Gran and Dar sold the farm and relocated to Swan Hill.

Gran & Dar with 2 of their great grandies: my children Aidan and Aoife
Another great grandie Sierra

Gran continued to be involved in community activities joining the Swan Hill Uniting Church, the Croquet Club, the Trefoil Guild and the ‘Book Worms’ craft group. Friends from these associations enjoyed Gran’s fellowship, listening to her stories and sharing a laugh.

It’s been lovely this past week being close with family and reflecting on Gran’s life. Equally lovely has been the number of people who have phoned, sent flowers, or stopped me in the streets of Sea Lake to pass on their condolences and tell me what an amazing woman Gran was. Even years after moving from the farm, people up and down the street speak fondly of ‘Marj’ and all that she is.

Gran with Ang, Me (holding Aoife), Rose, Cherz (blond) and Ash - all her granddaughters

We are all influenced by strong people in our lives, and Gran has been a constant inspiration for her family. Given the social expectations of women in her era, it is important to appreciate how unique Gran was. Her belief in herself and her capabilities has shaped how we, as her descendants view ourselves; her traits are something that future generations can aspire to. Gran was an amazing person - she was interesting, selfless, authentic, showing integrity and faithfulness. She was determined and showed perseverance and had a cheeky sense of humour. If more people were as interested in the good things in life, like Gran, the world would be a better place for future generations. Teach your kids and grandkids life skills, tell them stories about the ‘old days’, challenge their thinking, encourage them to be the best that they can be - because these are the gifts from Gran that we’ll cherish forever.
60th Wedding Anniversary:  Allan and Marj reunited with their wedding party (sister Joan and best man Bill) in 2010

We could never mention every aspect of her life today, but we were all so blessed to have Marj, our Gran, in our lives.
About to plant a kiss on Dar!

Whether she was by your side each and every day for over 62 years as your rock and soulmate, or whether she was the most loving, caring Mother a child could hope for; whether she was a Gran who was interested and interesting to her brood of grandies, or as a dear, thoughtful friend to so many, Marj, Gran, has made a lasting impression on us all.

You may remember a touch, a kiss, a cuddle, a smile, a sparkle in her eye, a voice at the end of the telephone, a laugh, a pat on the arm, a letter in the postbox, a friendly chat in the street, a kind gesture. Gran was community-minded, compassionate, generous, encouraging and kind. She was strong, capable and hopeful. She was always loving, loyal and utterly devoted to her family. Her faith and trust in God was unshakable.

A representation of Gran's life

It is with heavy hearts we say goodbye to you, our darling Gran. 
You are an enormous loss to our family, but we thank God for your wonderful life. 
Your legacy of love will live on forever inside of us.


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