By foregrounding stories about memorabilia passed among mothers and daughters, the multiple dimensions of women’s lives come into view. Such stories affirm female subjectivity within the boundaries of social, cultural, familial and religious discourses. These objects served as triggering mnemonic devices for generating and provoking mother-daughter stories. The stories unpack some of the meanings given to these memorabilia.
St Anne with Mary her daughter
Anne has a wooden carving from Oberammergau, Germany of St Anne and her daughter Mary that has passed through her maternal line. It is a symbol, a sign of her female forebears creating a spiritual and material space for the mother-daughter relationship. The wooden statue of St Anne and her daughter Mary was brought back from Germany in the 1960s by Anne’s Aunt Inez. Inez gave it to her mother Mary as a gift. Inez died at the age of 33. When Mary passed away Marie her eldest daughter inherited the statue and some years later passed it on to her daughter Anne.
Anne: Now I’ve got something else. These remind me of my mother’s funeral. We had a rosary the night before her funeral. Because I’m one of seven, there was a last-minute rush to find enough rosary beads for everyone. So, we have all sorts of rosary beads. Some are together-
Ronnie: some are broken…
Anne: some have been blessed with holy water from Lourdes.
Ronnie: (looking at the rosary beads) right, look at this. I had some like this, these ones here, and I mean these rituals were just so integral to our lives.
Connemara Rosary Beads
Trish: When you’re travelling you’ve got your eye out for a little present that people at home might like and I’d never seen anything like that (the rosary beads) and I don’t think she (my mother Meg) had either… Instead of having the full round Rosary beads with five decades of the Rosary – it’s just got one decade of the Rosary in these beautiful chunky Connemara rocks and there it’s got a ring. So, what you do is you move the ring from one finger to the next, for the five decades. I just thought that was a beautiful present mum would like, which she did. So yes, that was just something that I brought here after she died.
And we would say a prayer to Our Lady – that was her [my mother’s] favourite prayer – because praying to Our Lady was one of her favourite things because she she’d always say ‘well Mary is the Mother of God, so, you know I think she, sort of, got a bit of a good way of helping things happen. Yes, but her prayers haven’t really rubbed off on me so much and she was a great devotee of saying the Rosary and we had to say the Rosary every night on our knees…
Monastique moisturiser made by the Carmelite nuns
Anne recollects that as a young woman; her mother on occasions bought her a bottle of moisturiser as a gift. The moisturiser was made by the Carmelite nuns, who were located in Kew, near where Anne’s grandmother lived.
World Making Things
Sally’s Tea Cups
Sally’s tea cups and coffee cups in a cupboard acquired and stripped back and revarnished for the purpose of storing the cups.
Aileen – Grandma
Sally – Daughter of Aileen
Katelyn – Daughter of Sally
Sally – My mother had a beautiful gold and pink – it sounds awful when you say it like that – tea set, and she has put a plate and a cup and a saucer and she’s done them all up with cellophane and ribbons and she’s giving them to all the granddaughters. So, they’ve all got a part of her dinner set, yeah.
Katelyn – When we got married Grandma made us all garters, all the granddaughters so we have one of those which I will keep and pass down – depending on if I had a girl I’d pass that down. And she’s made my son a cot blanket, so it’ll definitely be kept in the family. I think [it’s important] because it’s handmade, that’s probably the main thing for me. Grandma always gives us little bits from her house like she’s getting ready to die and she keeps passing on things to us.
Sally -If you walk past and you said, ‘oh that’s nice, Aileen’, she says, ‘would you like that’?
Katelyn – Grandma used to make a lot of things like pottery-type things and so she gives that to us. She gave us all teacups and saucers which she got from when she was – like from her glory box I think some of them are.
Patricia’s cupboard of memorabilia
Patricia – Well, that cupboard over there is full of things that have been passed on to me. That beautiful hand painted coffee set was given to my parents on a special occasion, it was their 25th wedding anniversary and it was hand painted by Good Shepherd nuns. Then there’s the tea set, the silver tea set, and there’s a little jug up the top that came from my grandma’s side of the family. From my grandma, my mother’s mother… that crystal biscuit jar… and a few other things, cups and saucers and some glasses. There was a pearl necklace that my mother left me, it’s waiting to be repaired…
Meg’s cake stand that was passed onto Trish
Trish: Meg, my mother, was very much into birthdays. Every birthday in the family, we would first of all get up early and go to Mass at St. Finbars and there was no eating or anything before Mass. I think it must have been seven o’clock or something like that, when we went to mass. Then we’d come home and line up at the lounge room door, which would be closed, and the birthday person would be first in line. After that you’d line up in order of age, which was quite exciting when I was little. I’d always be first or second. Then you’d go in and on the table would be your presents and a beautiful sponge cake made by my mother on that crystal stand.
Pat’s family jewellery box
Pat: My husband brought that back…He went back to (Scotland for) a girlfriend…
Olivia (grand-daughter): Came over (from Scotland), met Nan, went back to Scotland.
Pat: He came back the second time and he brought me back the jewellery box…
Fiona (daughter): So that was your gift on his return? And he came back to you and he never went back.
Pat…He stayed out in Scotland for two or three years then I wasn’t sure if I wanted him. His mother said, ‘Go back to Australia’.
Pat: This was from my mother. I’m always going to get it [fixed]– it doesn’t stay on… it’s too loose. See perhaps – I – but I don’t think there’s any great value in it.
Oliva (grand-daughter): Sentimental value
Knowledge and Communicative Things
The letter, on the surface an everyday set of observations, revealed to Sue on further reading (and perhaps even more so in retrospect) an intimate relational subtext. The act of rendering the subtext explicit enabled Sue to name the affective ties, binding daughter to mother in deeply emotional ways.
Anne: I have two of my grandmother Mary’s oil painting. One is of two apples placed alongside a green jar and the other is of a river tranquilly running under overhanding trees and Cromwell’s bridge. It appears to be sunset as there are shades of orange and red which lie in contrast to the darker hues of the backdrop.
Bernadette: Sarah’s mother
Loreto: Sarah’s aunt
Anne: Sarah’s aunt and researcher
Sarah: Oh, I know what my memorabilia would be, my book.
Anne: And what’s your book?
Loreto: The one from the station?
Sarah: Yeah, Mum was cleaning out the spare room the other week and she found it.
Anne: And what is it?
Sarah: Oh it’s this – when we lived at Mittiebah (a cattle station in the Northern Territory, Australia).
Loreto: I’ve got my copy still.
Sarah: Do you have a copy?
Loreto: I’ve got it on the bookshelf.
Anne: And what is it? You’ll have to show it to me.
Bernadette: Show it to you yeah.
Sarah: It was this book my governess helped me write when we lived at Mittiebah, all about my life living on a cattle station. It was basically my autobiography at the tender age of five. We found it the other week and yeah just my experience then. It has all about doing School of the Air and playing with my brothers because there weren’t any other kids on the property. What we did in a day – I guess I think there’s a bit in there about how I didn’t like school and Tom used to cry all the time. So, I guess to look at that from then and where I am now, it’s yeah, a nice bit of memorabilia, yeah.
As part of Anne’s journey to Rome (January 2019) she returned to Australia with some remaining material belongings of Melissa who, like Inez her great-Aunt, died at the age of 33. Christina (Anne’s niece told the story of the week after Melissa’s death, when her mother and she sat in the apartment in Italy and sorted through Melissa’s things. Melissa had listed to whom they all were to go – letters back to the people who had written them, her collection of elephants to friends, gold earrings to a friend she went to school with in India. Melissa will be recollected through these cultural artefacts, memorabilia, photos and letters. Her niece (Claire’s daughter – Mia) will come to know Melissa through these artefacts as Anne came to know more about her Aunt Inez, through the wooden statue of St Anne and Mary.