I was raised in the western suburbs of Sydney, in a modest home of few conveniences, where I lived with my mother and older brother. Life was tough, and it became tougher when my mother’s health collapsed. Without the support of the relatives and neighbours who rallied to help, I would not have become the woman I am today.
The road was not a smooth one though. One summer’s day in late 1974 I arrived in Adelaide alone and jobless; my education abandoned, my family and friendship ties severed, a failed marriage behind me – and my child lost to adoption. I was just nineteen years old.
Since that day the road has been a long and winding one. I took whatever work paid the bills: motel reception, dental nursing, and switchboard operator, until a chance opportunity saw me land a role in customs clearance on the male-dominated Port Adelaide waterfront in the exciting days of the pre-container era.
In the late 70s I headed off to Europe, five year working holiday visa in one hand, and Arthur Frommer’s Europe on $10 a day in the other. I visited many countries, both in front of and behind the Iron Curtain, working wherever I could, and always absorbing the local language and customs. I was living in Yugoslavia when Tito died, and left the country soon after, fearing a Soviet invasion.
It was while I was living in Italy that I went in search of the father I had last seen at four years old, only to discover he was living in a north-western suburb of Sydney.
Australia has been my home again since the early 80s. It is here that I met and married my husband of thirty years. It is here that I built a successful career in shipping and logistics. And it is here that all the individual threads of my life have woven back into one great tapestry.
Retirement in 2008 took me by surprise, and pushed me down the track of re-invention once again.
Up until then essentially self-educated, in 2010, and already in my mid-50s, I decided to enter university for the first time, and I now hold a Master’s Degree in Electronic Commerce. I thought I would return to corporate life, but . . .
I have always been a storyteller, or more precisely a raconteur: a person who tells anecdotes in a skilful and amusing way. I believe that humour is an important survival mechanism and a powerful tool in holding our emotions at bay. My blog, The Reluctant Retiree by Garrulous Gwendoline: Stories from a Baby Boomer Surviving Retirement is an example of that ethos.
I always promised myself that one day I would take the time to write down all my funny stories and anecdotes.
When that day finally came, however, it was another story which emerged. Perhaps it is the one that I was always meant to write. It is a tale of trauma, yes. More importantly, it is a tale of triumph over adversity - a heartfelt message of hope.
I Belong to No One is my story.
Republished with permission of IRT’s The Good Life magazine
Photo courtesy of Dave Tease
Digital B&W photo restorations by AZ Pictured