part three. She stopped nursing.

When she had gone to the city to nurse she left the farm for good and she left her father. Her mother came to visit about once a year and she came saying, “Your father sends his love.”

She never accepted his love and her mother would always say, “He means well.”

When her mother died that was the end of any contact she had with him.

She immersed herself in her welding and as one year blended into another year she became well-known. Some of her works sold well.

Her husband was proud of her and her confidence allowed their relationship to develop as it should have developed from the start.

On her sixtieth birthday she received an invitation in the mail to submit a work for inclusion in Heide Museum of Modern Art. The museum is in Melbourne and very close to where she lived and she was absolutely delighted.

She scrounged around old junk shops and collected an assortment of pieces of iron and constructed a piece that she felt told the story of her first piece that she had thrown in the dam all those years ago.

The curator was overwhelmed and they sent out invitations for a formal acceptance of the work.

Her sculpture was set in one of the outside areas on the flat down by the river and over one hundred people attended.

Some important dignitary made a very moving speech and she was invited to stand to reply.

But before she had a chance an old man in a wheel chair was pushed to the front and in his lap he carried an old and rusted piece of welded art work. Very haltingly he stood and turned to the audience.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, you may think that this is her greatest work. But I have here, her first piece. It is better by far that this piece that you see before you. The piece I have was made in secret. She had to hide her work when she started because of an old idea that women were unable to work with iron and steel. She had to hide her desires from prejudice against women. She overcame all this and I want you all to know that I am the proudest father here.”

She stepped down and went to her father that she had not seen for forty years. They held each other and the tears fell down her face.

And all her father said was, “I love you.” It was all he needed to say.

Her statue is set in the grounds and at the foot there is a small statue that is set just as firmly.

I suppose I could say that they lived happily ever after and that is true. But only for one year and then her father died. But it was a very good year. That is the end of the story.

But I want to add a postscript.

I want to tell you a tiny bit of her father’s life. This is told in his own words.

It started the day she came to the nursing home. Every Wednesday afternoon the ‘activities’ honcho invited someone to come and talk to us. I was never sure if it was to educate us or to keep us from thinking. Maybe in all honesty they thought that some of us would gain something, anything, from the visits. I always went and most of the time it did at least help to fill in the day.

 I’ve still got the sheet that was pinned to the notice board. “Wednesday 24 July. 3.30 pm. We are pleased to advise that Susan Wilson, famous Australian sculptor, will come and talk about art.” When she walked in I nearly died, which wouldn’t have surprised anyone. I was eighty-eight and I could have kicked the bucket anytime. I was my Susan! The girl I hadn’t talked to for close on fifty years. And it was all my fault. I closed my eyes and hung my head and the tears just fell. One of the girls noticed and wheeled me out of the activities room and back to my room. She didn’t ask me what the matter was. They just assume that we old buggers get emotional now and then. All she did was make me a cup of tea and pat my hand and say, “You’ll be all right , Jack. Just have a bit of a snooze and it will be better when you wake up.”

But I didn’t have a snooze. Two days stuck in my head. The first was that Saturday morning when I burst into her room and swore at her and told her to keep out of my workshop. And I told her to settle on becoming a nurse. The second day was when she threw all her welding into the dam.

I feel very guilty now about the way I behaved that first day, but back then I thought it was right. I was cross and angry. It had been about five bad years on the farm. In the two weeks leading up to that Saturday morning I had shot and buried three hundred of my sheep. The prices sheep were bringing then was less that the cost of transporting them to the sale yards. I know it was a waste but then I could see no way out. So if Susan didn’t get a decent job there was no future for her. That’s how I felt.

The day she threw her welding in the dam I felt helpless and there was a seed of shame planted in my heart. As that seed burst into life and grew I could find no way to say sorry. Fifty years ago a man didn’t say sorry. It was a very difficult word to use. And even worse was to admit that you had been wrong.

Susan’s mother visited her and I asked her to tell Susan that I sent my love but she never responded. I don’t believe it was because she was mean-spirited but she had never heard me say that to her even when she was a baby. Some men have always found it difficult to express themselves in that way.

Ten years later we had about three years of drought and the dam dried out. And so I cleared all the rubbish that had fallen in over the years and the stuff that had been thrown in by Susan. But there was one piece that I saved; the first piece that seemed to me to actually say something. From that day on I followed her development as a real artist. I collected news cuttings and I visited showings of her work. Then the doctors told me how much time I had left. My GP said to me when all the results came back, “Well Jack, if there’s anything you have left that you need to do I reckon you’d better find a way of doing it. Sooner rather than never.”

So I told the nurse manager here at the home what I wanted and she organised with the Heidi Museum of Modern Art to let me make my little speech. That is what I did. And we have enjoyed being a father and daughter. At long bloody last.

But what a fool I was. I should have had the guts to go and talk with her and to say I was wrong. As I said; it takes a lot of courage to say sorry but I never had enough courage. She did. She accepted my apology and said thanks. Saying ‘thank you’ can take courage as well.

Just to allay the fears of the uninitiated, absolutely not one iota of this story is factual. But I like to think it could be true. If the reality interests you, you can go and look at Heide Museum of Modern Art

5 comments

  1. A wonderful story. AND there is an iota of truth in it. In my high school years 67-71, I wanted to do woodwork. But the girls were not allowed to enrol, nor in metalwork. Yet the boys could enrol in Home Science, on the basis they may grow up to be chefs. Growl …

    Like

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