Jean Hunt 1916-2001
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Jean Hunt was born Jean Jackson on the 31st October 1916. A post-war child, who herself had post-war children three decades later. She was born in Flemington Hospital and always wise-cracked with us kids that the place was really called “Smellington” because of the smell from the abattoir.
The family lived in Flemington, but moved later to 16 Randle Street, Granville. Mum’s parents, John and Bella Jackson, came out from northern England soon after they married in 1912 and Mum’s Dad, John Jackson, worked on the NSW railways.
This is the earliest photo I have of Mum. She’s the one on the left. I think this might have been taken at the Randle Street house. The other child is Tom Jackson, Mum’s older brother, and the woman is someone they knew as “Aunty” Nell Ryder, although she wasn’t a relative. It was common, even when we were kids, to call adult friends of your parents “Aunty” or “Uncle”.
Mum went to school at the William Street school in Granville. It was the same school that my sisters and I went to in the fifties. When we went there it was called Granville Central Public School and one of the original students way back in the 19th century had been Dad’s grandfather, Walter Pegler. Mum started school when she was five and here she is almost smiling. I say “almost smiling” because during Mum’s almost 85 years of life, she was nearly always smiling, or just about to. 2nd from right, 2nd row from the front.
Now she’s at High School. Still got the same natty hair style too. 3rd from left, 2nd row from front. 1929 and Mum was 12 years old and attending the Parramatta Domestic Science School. I have her report card from this time. Her conduct was described as “Fairly good”; her progress as “Fair” and the teacher’s remarks were “Interest shown in work, but has too much to say.” Somehow that was a script that Mum followed for the rest of her life.
Each year everyone would get a new outfit for the Sunday School anniversary at Granville Methodist Church where the family attended and here is an example of the fashions modelled by Mum on the right and Edith Chegwidden on the left.
In 1933, Dad came down from the family orchard out at Mangrove Mountains to go to Parramatta High School and he lived with Grandpa Walter Pegler in Parramatta. On Sundays he would spend the day with his mother’s sister, Aunty Beat Jordan, who attended Granville Methodist Church. Dad remembers Mum from that time as follows:
“Just across the aisle was a class of very small girls, just graduated from the Kindergarten and they were taught by a most attractive red-headed girl called Jean Jackson, although I probably didn’t even know her name at that time. I remember her as a rather friendly tomboy although she joined with others to ‘kid’ me about my knickerbockers which my mother insisted I wear with my Sunday suit and which were a great embarrassment to me. I was nevertheless attracted to her although I was only 12 or 13 and she was 16 or 17. At that age, four or five years seemed like the proverbial generation gap. In any case, I went back to Mangrove late in 1934 and, I suppose, forgot about her. Or nearly so.”
And here is the whole Jackson family. Pat on the left, John Jackson, always known as Jack of course, Mum in the middle. Bella and Tom. Mum had learned to play the piano and was a regular organist in the church.
As children, Judith, Ann and I were blessed with musical parents. Mum played piano and Dad was the choir master and song leader. And our young lives were filled with the love of music. The radio was always on. Dad joined the World Record Club and let us help him choose the monthly selections. We were all encouraged to learn the piano and to develop and use our musical talents. For sure, Mum’s love of music has cascaded down through the generations as is witnessed today as part of our celebration of Mum’s life and legacy.
Here is a picture of the Granville Methodist Sunday School on a picnic day in 1936. She's in the sun, 2nd back row, 3rd from the left. Mum was 19 and clearly enjoying herself.
It was about this time that Dad came back to Sydney to begin work at Babcocks and started attending Granville Methodist Church again. Mum was a vivacious and popular girl. She was always ready for fun, the first onto the back of a boy’s motorcycle. She had a reputation for being a tomboy and was more than a little bold.
Mum and Dad weren’t going together, but they were both in the choir and one night Mum came out of the kitchen with a plate of biscuits after the choir practice and stopped by Dad long enough to plant a kiss right smack on his lips. Dad had never had a girl kiss HIM before so he remembers that this was pretty special. Gob-smacked. Literally.
Mum left school at 14 in 1930 and started work as a milliner, a hat-maker, at “Eva Sullivan & Philadelphia – Artistic Milliners and ready to wear specialists” of Castlereagh Street, Sydney. Here’s a shot of her with colleagues in 1937. She's 2nd from the right. Mum is 20. Soon after this she left Eva Sullivans and went to work as a milliner and dressmaker at Grace Brothers on Broadway where she worked until she married Dad in 1943.
Mum was clearly popular with boys and girls alike and Harry Birchall was her last boyfriend before Dad. Soon after this photo was taken in 1939, Harry was killed riding his motor bike. Although I never heard this story from Mum, Dad remembers that she was really shook up. She asked for three months’ leave from her Sunday duties of teaching and playing the organ in the morning service. But Dad remembers that she was soon back at church and throwing herself into the thick of things as she drew comfort and relief from her grief by her involvement again in the life of the church family.
That doesn’t surprise us. Mum was a social person and extroverted. She drew strength and comfort from being with people. She liked to have her family around her. She didn’t necessarily have to be doing things, or organising them. She just liked to be present and to be present with them.
In the summer of ’42 Jean Jackson and John Hunt were engaged and a street photographer took this picture of them at Manly. If you look closely you can see that Mum has an engagement ring on the fingers wrapped through Dad’s arm.
And on the 6th March 1943 Mum and Dad were married at Granville Methodist Church. It was the day before Dad’s 22nd birthday. Mum was 26. It was war time and things were hard to get. Dad remembers that his suit was called a “war-austerity” suit because it had narrow lapels and trousers without cuffs as a way of saving fabric!
But Mum borrowed her sister-in-law, Kitty’s wedding dress and redesigned it, and she found some blue lace to make a dress for her sister, Pat, to wear.
Looking back I realise that most of us thought it the most normal thing in the world that one’s mother was a stitch-perfect dressmaker and tailor. This was not the last bridesmaid’s dress that this talented dressmaker would run up with skill and deceptive ease. Looking back, we see that Mum was a gifted dressmaker. She made clothes for us kids that were better than the ones you could buy in shops. She made the curtains for the house. Other people would marvel at this. We just thought it was what mothers did. On reflection it was only what OUR mother did.
And speaking of Mothers, here she is with her brood. We are at North Avoca Beach during 1950.
And here we are a little later all dressed up for a fancy dress ball in clothes that our amazing Mother had run up on her pedal powered Singer sewing machine. Ann remembers the reason for the black eye—she had had an altercation with a barbed-wire fence.
Now that we have had kids of our own, and endured the drama and agony of trying to get kids dressed for dress-up events at school, we have a profound admiration for how easily and gladly Mum used to rise to such occasions. Compared to the crepe paper and cardboard efforts we made with our own kids, these Jean Hunt productions were worthy of Hollywood.
Our younger brother, Ian George Hunt, was born on the 31st July 1953 and died 8 weeks later on the 24th September. They called it a “cot death” in those days. Today it’s called Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Whatever you call it, it knocked Mum about terribly. Some of the relatives said that Mum changed when she got married. That she “settled down” a bit. But, for sure, Ian’s birth and death took the wind right out of her sails.
Mum’s own life had been in the balance as Ian was born. Her blood pressure shot up through the roof and she lapsed into a coma for three critical days. Mum remembered one of the nurses saying she would pull through because they had never lost a mother before, and they weren’t about to start. She said she didn’t want to disappoint them! But something happened during those three days in limbo. It was a near death experience that affected Mum’s whole personality. She had to work to recover a lot of ordinary abilities. She couldn’t make simple decisions like what to have for dinner and would pace the back yard for hours worrying about it. She couldn’t catch the bus up to Parramatta to shop. She lost her sense of taste.
As children, we hardly noticed any of this, partly because we were dispatched for along holiday with our grandparents and the lovely Aunty Lois. But, with the benefit of hindsight we see that 1953 was Mum’s annus horribilus, her most horrible year. Slowly, she worked herself back into life and living. Her humour and sense of fun returned. Diminished perhaps, but not destroyed.
Mum’s friend, Jean Gorton, introduced Mum to something that may have saved her life, and certainly restored her sanity. An organisation called “The League of Health.” It was a kind of mixture of relaxation exercises and stress-free philosophy. Some people would probably poke fun at it today for its simplicity and naivete. But its homespun honesty and genuineness matched Mum perfectly. The League of Health played a major role in Mum’s life for many years and in many ways revived her spirits and zest for living again.
I am sure the fact of having three little kids who continued to skate along in their own little worlds also helped to bring Mum back to life. Life went on. And so did we as a family. However these traumas of life touched Mum and Dad, they continued to provide a stable and loving place for us to grow and develop. We learned to appreciate family, and each of us have, with our partners, managed to do the same for own families. We owe Mum and Dad much for teaching us these lessons.
In 1963, Dad was promoted to be boss of everything in Asia north of the Tweed River (or so it seemed to us) and the family moved to Aspley in Brisbane. Number 50 Binowee Street. This was the beginning of a new adventure for the whole family. And a good one. I’m sure Mum had her reservations about moving so far away from friends and family, but she embraced it with enthusiasm, and we followed her lead.
I think it is pretty clear that this adventurous spirit also continues to cascade down through the generations from both Dad and Mum.
Well, soon enough there was another guy in the house. Don Carter pushing me into the background. Actually, I thought it was great to have someone who acted like a big brother. Although he did seem to be rather distracted by my big sister most of the time.
Anyway, soon enough I was distracted by someone else’s sister. Soon after Don Carter married Judith Hunt, I got engaged to Judy Beeston. Judy can’t be with us today, but she wrote the following:
Over the years, I have been part of many women’s groups all over the world. As women have been known to do from time to time, we would talk. Often the subject of mothers-in-law would come up. I would sit and listen to horror stories of the mothers-in-law from Hell. Then, I would quietly say, “Well, I’m sorry, but I love my mother-in-law. She is the best.”
The first time I met Gran was when I was invited for tea with the New Road Trio to be followed with a practise. I was to sing with them at the Cabaret run by the Department of Christian Education on the Gold Coast. I was young and a little nervous about eating with these people I didn’t know. I swear when I walked in there was an aura around the table. The silver sparkled and the glasses glistened. I was sure I wouldn’t be able to swallow a thing and would be sure to pick up the wrong piece of cutlery. Then I met Gran. She was ease personified. Her ready chuckle and down-to earth attitude made me love her immediately.
And, Judy continues, she never altered. She was always able to laugh at things. Later, when the kids were born and she would be visiting me, sometimes standing for hours ironing to give me a break, we would collapse laughing at things and spend time talking and talking, about old times and new. She encouraged me in all that I did, affirmed me in what I was doing with the kids, and generally boosted my self esteem and confidence. There was hardly any subject that was taboo when we sat down to talk over a cup of tea. They were great times.
She, herself, was extremely talented and so generous with her time. She made the bridesmaids dresses at our wedding. She made all of our curtains for our first home, taking away the cheap material (which was all that we could afford at the time) and bringing it all back as beautifully made-up curtains the following week, all pressed and ready to hang. She was a perfectionist and, as I got to know curtains in time, I realised what beautiful work she did. In the same way, she would take home a bag of wool and bring back a beautifully made up jumper in a matter of weeks. And, I never heard her whinge about anything.
So, you see, I was greatly blessed in my mother-in-law. Gran was a paragon of virtue. Isn’t that right, Gran? I can hear her chuckle.
Skirts were getting shorter and camel was the popular colour in 1970 when Jane Ann Carter was born. Mum and Dad’s first grandchild. No-one was happier about this than Mum, who now became known as Gran.
As hemlines continued to rise, even on Don’s shorts, and subsequent grandchildren came along Gran was always around to enjoy them, to support and affirm the mothers, and just to be present. Often Mum would come over to our place in Ferny Hills just to help out with the chores for hours while Judy, Jamie and Melanie went about living. She was just happy to be part of it.
And if anything brought her joy in this phase of her life, it was her grandchildren. We all still remember her laughter at this Christmas party. She had given Jamie and Paul these floppy hats as a present and the two boys walked around wearing them, and completely ignoring one another. I guess it was one of those you-had-to-be-there kind of moments, but we laughed for ages at the time. No-one louder or longer than Gran.
Mum would teach us songs while she did other things. One of my earliest memories is of being dried off after a bath while Mum sang “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.” Here she is teaching Melanie to sing Rockabye Baby on the tree top.
And, of course, “Build on the Rock, the Rock that ever stands.” Mum’s Christian faith was real. And she communicated it in natural ways like this.
Melanie can remember learning to sing “Maisy Dotes” from Gran.
And any time we went to see Gran, she was knitting. Always knitting. Always something was in production.
One of the ironies we did not realise until much later is that Mum had never cooked until she got married. Her own mother, Bella, kept her out of the kitchen for some reason. Yet we always seemed to eat brilliantly well and here’s a pretty good example from the seventies. Paul looks like he could still fit in some ice cream, but I reckon Melanie’s reached her limit.
Then in the middle seventies, I got another brother. Here he is with Ann on the lounge at the Drummoyne apartment. Renzo looks a bit shy here, but apparently it was all a big act because he and Ann married in 1978.
Not only did Ann and Renzo get married, but they also kept up the supply of grandchildren for happy Gran. Here she is showing Carly off to her best friend in Sydney, Nancy Robertson.
And, then there was Michael and eventually, Suzanne.
The Philip Hunts moved to Hong Kong in 1983 and Mum and Dad visited us. I reckon this was the first time I realised that Mum had Alzheimer’s disease.
Mum’s mother, Bella Jackson, had Alzheimers the last few years of her life and Judy remembers Mum’s own concern that she too might be afflicted by it. While this was a happy visit for everyone, it was clear that Mum was now ill at ease in many social situations. She found shopping an ordeal and was happiest when sitting at home with us, or sharing a meal that others had prepared for her, or helping out with a simple chore that kept her in touch with what was going on around her.
When Dad’s sister, our Aunty Lois, had cancer Dad retired early. The holiday home at Bribie Island was sold and Mum and Dad bought a new house at Bateau Bay. The bits and pieces from the Bribie place were piled up on a trailer and Mum and Dad set off on this next phase of their interesting life.
There is no doubt that they had many years of enjoyment at Bateau Bay. It’s a nice place to live, to walk and to enjoy the rewards of retirement and Mum and Dad made the best of it. And you can see that they were happy about it. With that view, it’s hard not to smile, eh?
The caption for this photo in our photo album is “That’s a good one, Gran, tell us another one!” Richard, who is the baby here, of course, never really knew Gran as the fun-loving, joking person that we older ones remember. But like all of her offspring, he has inherited her sense of humour. We all like a good joke. We all like to laugh. And, when things are difficult, we often try to bring some relief with a little joke.
Richard, who is now 13 had been watching the awful events in America of last week along with the rest of us. Next morning I told him that Gran had died.
He said, “She picked a bad day to go?”
Judy asked “Why?”
“It’ll be busy up there,” he replied.
I reckon Gran would have laughed at that.
By 1991, Mum was no longer living at home. Dad had been the faithful sole carer in a way that set a loving example for all of us kids, but now the consequences of Alzheimers meant that she needed full-time care. She moved into the CADE unit at Bateau Bay and it was clear to us that this was a good thing for both Dad and Mum.
Over the next ten years, in many ways, Mum gradually drifted away, but some spark of her always remained identifiably her.
Ann, to her eternal credit, saw much more of Mum and Dad during these last ten years than did Judith and I. Last year she wrote a poem for Mum on her 84th birthday that expresses just what all of us children would like to say:
You never lost your temper Mum
We knew just where we stood
You didn’t show affection much
You didn’t think you should
But we knew how much you loved us
We felt it every day
And I’ve discovered that’s one thing
Alzheimers can’t take away!
We thank God for the life of Jean Hunt. She gave us life and taught us how to use and enjoy it. She lived in relation to the people around her, concerned for their welfare and attentive to their needs. This kind of quiet, self-giving life may not make headlines, nor cause novels to be written. But, in the scheme of things, the quality of life that Jean Hunt lived made a more important contribution to the world than those about whom headlines and novels might be written.
Goodbye, Mum, rest in peace. You deserve it.