Tristen Baldwin

It was a normal Wednesday evening at my place. It was the middle of winter, freezing cold, and I was sitting at the dinner table, trying to get motivated enough to do my homework. I could hear my sister speaking to someone on the phone. She sounded serious, for once, and I could hear her carrying on with the call as she walked down the stairs towards me. My younger sister was sitting on the couch opposite me and looked at me, we knew something was wrong. My older sister walked towards us – she had hung up the phone but was still clutching it – and she told us through tears, that my Nanna was in hospital. That was dad on the phone, calling his eldest child, and there she was, telling me.

I was shocked and sad. My sisters and mum were too. Even though mum and dad had separated, my mum knew how much Nanna means to us, meant to us, so she was worried about her too. Around half an hour later my sent us a text letting us know he was here. He was waiting for us in his car. We made our way out and got in his car– me and my two sisters.

Dad drove us, quickly to the hospital. Nanna had had a series of heart problems recently and they were getting worse. We found her room and saw her. It was haunting to see my Nanna like that, lying down, tubes everywhere, the heart monitor beeping. She looked lifeless. My dad went and got news from the nurses. She may not make it through the night, they said.

I took a seat next to her, as she lay there silently. My sister sat on her bed, my father looked on anxiously. None of us spoke. As I sat there looking at her, memories of her, her life, came flooding back to me. Memories of Nanna laughing along when Popeye (our grandfather) joked that she could ride her segway up the walls, Nanna laughing at our incredulous faces, faces that believed Pop’s story. Memories of Nanna playing ping pong with us at a sports bar – she was surprisingly good, beating all of us, and that was probably the happiest I ever saw her, laughing and just enjoying the victory over her grandkids. But not all memories of Nanna were bathed in light, in good times. Sometimes Nanna’s face would cloud over.

These are the stories I remember Nanna telling us, stories of her own life, her own struggle. My Nanna was taken from her mother the moment she was born, along with her five siblings. The children’s welfare department denied her mother custody of all of her children. They deliberately kept the children in locations that would make it nearly impossible for the mother to find them. Not only that, but my nanna and her brothers and sisters were split apart and did not see each other. Her life began in a Presbyterian Children’s Home until the age of 4, she was then moved to several foster homes for the rest of the years to come. She was lied to during this time and told that her mother was dead and that she was an orphan. In her teenage years she lived in Kildonan Children’s Cottage in Syndal where she found some happiness and was able to meet three other Koori children who helped her find her own identity and belonging and helped shape her culture and who she is as a person. Unfortunately, when she was of the age that she could research and find her mother, she was informed that she has passed away the year before. The first relative she ever met was her eldest brother Robert, who unfortunately passed away three years later. She went on to complete her education, get married in 1968 and have two sons, Robert and Ricky.

As I looked at my frail Nanna, lying on the hospital bed, I felt incredible sadness. I felt a loss of connection to my Aboriginal culture, despite the protestations of my family that my culture somehow always influenced my decisions. But I also felt incredibly proud. I think that my goal of wanting to become a social worker or youth worker comes from listening to Nanna’s experiences, and I will always be grateful that she shared those with me. I thank her from showing me my Aboriginality. I think I am good at sport and most importantly that I feel a sense of connection to the land, to my people, because of my Nanna. I know that when she passes, I will feel desolate, and although I am sad not to know more about my culture, I am incredibly proud to be Aboriginal. My father and Nanna taught me never to be ashamed of who I am and I am proud to say that I want to promote my culture, teach others about the beauty of it, the significance of it, because of them.

My nanna survived that night in the hospital. I feel so blessed to know her, to know my story, our story.

Tristen Baldwin
Year 11