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|© Copyright 2003 Kenneth Mulholland|
Two Tales of a City
A true story. - For Linda Alexander.
Acknowledgement: Bob Dylan, Singer and Lyricist of 'Hurricane.'
'This here's the story of a search in vain,
'bout parted family, and a long lost name,
til some people took a hand,
and searched around to understand
how things could've happened anyway
and on and on until this day
there might've been an unenlightened world.'
The year is 1952.
The place, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
An eight year old boy welcomes his new-born sister home to a two bedroom Housing Commission brick-veneer in the outer Melbourne suburb of West Heidelberg.
Far off in Great Britain, heart of the British Empire, of which Australia is but a distant outpost, King George VI dies in February that year and his daughter Elizabeth Alexander Mary Windsor becomes Heir Presumptive to the throne of England.
In Melbourne, the baby girl is born on the 9th of October 1952.
Her natural mother places her for adoption.
The boys' parents take up the adoption soon after.
The boy Kenneth is anteceded by a brother, dead at birth, and eight years later, followed by a sister, also dead at birth.
When this new baby arrives in the house, the boy is told that she has been named Janis Sylvia.
He is also informed that she is adopted and that he must not disclose this fact: it is a secret that needs to be kept between parents and son until a suitable time arises somewhere in the future.
At first the boy complies, thinking himself very adult with such important information in his care.
Without question he believes his parents know what is for the best.
Yet as the boy moves into his teenage years, he begins to feel uneasy and often quarrels with his mother at this secretive behaviour. His father remains neutral and distant. The youth wants to tell his sister, but maintains his silence.
This is a secret that is to be kept for twenty-one years.
Meanwhile, in a distant part of town, another situation's goin' down:
a family falling apart. A mother takes her kids into the dark.
She leaves behind a womaniser, who vows to get them back just to despise her.
And indeed he does.
In Hawthorn, an inner suburb of Melbourne, another family is in turmoil. The wife is of Spanish blood. She is Lena. She and her parents, brothers and sisters had come to Australia in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War.
By 1952 she has married Walter and is the mother of four children.
They are Warwick, Maria, Alma and Geoff.
The marriage collapses and Lena takes the children away that year.
She goes to Carrum, then a country town, to live with her sister Rosie and Rosie's husband Bill.
One day when the four children are alone at home, their father Walter appears at the house.
When Lena and the others return after their day's work they find that the children are missing.
It is to be two years before Tom, a housepainter and a man who has befriended Lena, now returned to the city, locates her daughter Maria by pure chance outside Walter's house in Hawthorn.
Warwick by then has been despatched to a boarding school. Of Alma and Geoff there is no word.
Maria is seven years old, and Tom determines to return her to her mother.
He tells Maria of his plan and asks that she be waiting outside for him a few days later.
On the given day she is there and he spirits her away to be reunited with Lena.
Later Warwick is located and also reclaimed: his father Walter failing to pay the boarding school fees.
So two of the four children are recovered.
Walter, now living with another woman, makes no further attempt to retrieve Maria and Warwick and instead fades into the background.
Lena and Tom buy a house in a little street in Hawthorn not very far from Tom's mother's home, and there proceed to have five more children.
They are not to know that both Alma and Geoff, abandoned to a Children's Accommodation by Walter, have eventually been placed for foster care and that a kindly couple have taken them under their protection and guidance.
And so the years pass.
Warwick, unhappy with Tom's household dominance, leaves home as soon as he is old enough to make a living, determined to search for his lost sister and brother.
Over the coming years his sporadic attempts to find them fail.
Maria also eventually moves, having become independent enough to find her own way. Both leave behind Lena and Tom and their new clutch of children: four half brothers and sisters, and a fifth soon to arrive.
In the hot summer of 1967 Maria, whilst working as a catering supervisor at a television channel, meets Kenneth where he also works in staging and as a part-time cameraman.
Ken's sister is Janis Sylvia. She is now fifteen and attending high School.
The secret of her adoption still lies hidden, as are many of the terrible secrets of the forties and fifties: unmarried mothers, unmarried couples living in sin, children out of wedlock, scarlet women.
All the baggage of long-gone Victorian times that survived the brave new years after the second world war is still left to haunt the populace of the Brave new Australia.
With the marriage of Maria and Ken in 1970 the destinies of both families begin to entwine.
It is 1973. Janis, now almost twenty-one, is to be married to Barry.
As a matter of course, both birth certificates are required.
Then and only then is it decided by her adoptive parents, Gladys and Stan to inform her of her actual situation.
When she is told, Janis and her husband-to-be Barry are both shocked and dismayed.
It is difficult to assess the dislocation and betrayal Janis herself feels.
Neither has been in any way prepared for this revelation.
However, nothing further transpires to alter their course.
The wedding proceeds.
Almost nothing is said between brother and sister.
It is as if a pall descends. Everything is left unspoken.
Barry urges his new wife to search for her past, but she puts it behind her, preferring to get on with their life together.
And though her head was in a whirl,
She didn't even lay the blame
against her brother, mum and dad.
Although she might have held a grudge,
her own convictions wouldn't budge
her. She could've been a real disgruntled girl.
Little more than three years on, Maria receives a call from her brother Warwick.
Their long lost sister has contacted him.
After more than twenty years of separation comes a voice out of nowhere.
Alma, it transpires, has been searching for her family too and finally a connection is made.
Soon, a meeting is arranged and the three are reunited.
It is then that Alma explains how she and Geoff had spent their childhood and teens with their foster parents. Geoff, by now is married and living in Hawthorn, and it is discovered that he and Alma have been brought up in Preston. In an amazing quirk of fate, both brothers and sisters have been only four or five suburbs apart during much of their early lives.
Amidst their joy at finding each other, Alma and Geoff are dealt an unexpected blow. Lena, their natural mother, has died of cancer in 1975 at the age of forty-nine, leaving Tom to care for their five half brothers and sisters.
Throughout life there is always sorrow and joy, for that is how the pendulum of life swings.
In the early 1980's Alma, now the mother of a three year old boy, is stricken by the same disease that took her mother Lena's life, and she too dies.
Soon after the beginning of the new millennium, during 2002, Janis, now the mother of two grown boys, gains access to the records of her birth.
The birth certificate indicates her actual given names: Victoria Elizabeth.
And so the two sets of strange circumstances linking the families is played out.
Maria, Warwick and Geoff remain in contact to this day.
Janis, having laid to rest at least a part of the mystery concerning her past, is content to go on into the future. Though it must be said that throughout the later years, since discovering her adoption, she has conducted herself with dignity and grace, never once exhibiting any sign of hostility to those who, for so very long, kept her ignorant of the truth.
Perhaps, albeit conjecture, one might like to believe that her birth names were a product of the period. Her natural mother may have considered Victoria Elizabeth very suitable in an era when the old king had passed on and his daughter was about to ascend the throne of England.
Certainly, in the memory of an eight-year old boy, Victoria was a state where preparations for the coming Coronation were well under way.
The city of Melbourne was decorated and lit up like a Christmas tree and every man, woman and child welcomed their new Queen with a joy and a simplicity that has long since vanished from these troubled times.
Melbourne was the city where two families, unknown each to the other, were destined to come together: where children were to be brutally taken and discarded as so many unwanted goods; only to be reunited after more than twenty years.
Where a baby was born and a secret kept locked away for the duration of her entire childhood. Fifty years from her birth she has been allowed to know her real names.
It is fitting to leave these images, that vision of five children: Warwick, Maria, Alma, Geoff and Janis, to the faded photographs of the past.
That now is where those children belong.
Yet in their places are five lives, one tragically cut short, the others continuing forward.
To each of the five, I dedicate these words: Courage, Conviction, Dignity, Strength and Hope.
This is a true story. The names used here, with kind permission, are real names and the details are, as best they can be recalled, accurate.
The events above may not have been recounted at all, but for the influence of Linda Alexander, a published American author who, through her own writing, bent my thoughts toward 'The Human Condition.'
For that, Linda, I thank you.
This story has no end it has no beginning.
History's choked with the sinners and their sinning.
But for the seekers of the truth,
the ones who dare to find the proof.
They really are the champions of the world.
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