On International Women’s Day, Carolyn Tate pays tribute to her Grandmother Elsie and reflects on the importance of women’s stories. Read about her journey to uncover Elsie’s story and how it has brought their family together. Plus, learn how to write your own story with Carolyn’s Brave Women Write book and mentoring.
For many, International Women’s Day is a day of outward celebration. Yesterday, for me, it was a day of inward reflection. I paid silent tribute to the many special women in my life—the women who have shaken, stirred and supported me. My mother. My blood sisters. My chosen sisters. My ancestors. My teachers. My readers. My clients.
But mostly I thought about my paternal grandmother, Elsie Vandepeer.
Just a few days ago, with my cousin Susan, my father John, brother Greg, cousin Garry and their partners, I returned from the second leg of our journey to uncover Elsie’s story. (Read about the first leg here.)
We drove to Lameroo and then Wirha in the Murray Mallee region of South Australia to stand on the land that Elsie once lived on. It’s the land of the traditional owners, the Ngarkat people. Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land.
On a morning walk in Lameroo. Photo with thanks to cousin Garry.
This land was farmed for eight years in the 1930’s by Elsie and her husband Don (my grandfather). It was here my Grandmother gave birth to three children: Rosslyn, Heather and my father John, now the last surviving child.
The land was desolate and deserted. The vibrant blue and cloudless sky dominated the barren landscape. Numerous dilapidated sheds punctuated the horizon. A despairing and abandoned farm-house stood untended and unloved.
As I strolled around the property, I attempted to reimagine the scene as it might have been in Elsie’s time. I wondered if she was living the life she’d hoped for herself or a life that had been pre-determined by the convention of those times?
It was likely that she had no phone or car and only irregular contact with the farming community. As a young mother living miles away from her parents and siblings she must have often felt isolated and alone.
Through historical records we discovered the family had faced five years of drought and a bankruptcy that eventually forced them off the land. I tried to imagine how it must have been for them all to pack up their meagre belongings and walk into an uncertain future.
There are still so many missing pieces of Elsie’s story and I have not yet begun the novel I intend to write based on her life. For now, it’s just enough to keep investigating, ruminating and sharing a few blogs like this one.
My father John at what was once the local school. Photo with thanks to cousin Garry.
What’s been most wonderful, is that my Grandmother’s story has been the catalyst for our extended family to reunite. Cousin Susan’s passion to explore our family history, has brought us all back together to discover the untold story of a woman we all loved but never really knew.
My Grandmother’s story has unwittingly ignited a campfire for family storytelling where all the stories of our kin (past and present, women and men) might find their rightful place.
While I was raised on the stories of our male ancestors; the settlers, the farmers and the footballers, the stories of our female ancestors went largely minimised and untold.
Elsie never got to tell her own story. But now, through us, she is finding her voice.
On International Women’s Day, I pay tribute to Elsie.
Are you a woman who longs to write the untold and buried story of a woman like Elise? If so, Brave Women Write is the perfect companion to help you do just that.
And I’d love to help you on your journey, so please reach out.
PS Sadly we have no photos of Elsie or her family from this period.
My purpose for writing Brave Women Write was to help women heal our hurt, find our voice and write our story. I want women to know that our stories matter, and that now more than ever, they need to be told. I want to kick-start a movement of everyday women rebalancing history with herstory because for too long, men’s stories have dominated the past and defined the future. Is there a woman’s story you must write?
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