Thank you for coming.
Can I start by thanking Danny’s wife Delia, for doing most of the work to put this event together; thanks Delia.
Margret was born in Vienna on 23 April 1932. Her father was Paul. Her mother Ilse had been born in Czechoslovakia.
Her parents were secular Austrian Jews. Mum had a memory of seeing the Nazi’s walking the streets of Vienna, after Germany’s annexation of Austria in March 1938.
There were some 200,000 Jews in Vienna. We don’t know in what month mum’s family left. I assume it cannot have been long after the annexation because the Jews who did not leave Austria soon enough faired poorly.
By Kristallnacht, the following November, about 8,000 Jews were arrested, and 5,000 were sent to Dachau. By 1939 the Nazis had begun the systematic annihilation of the Austrian Jewish population.
Mum’s first stroke of luck in life was that she had parents who were sufficient politically aware to up and leave early enough. They were aided by the fact that our grandmother had relatives in Czechoslovakia and they were therefore able to get some money out.
Her family, which included John, Ilse’s son from her first marriage, went first to what was then Palestine. They stayed on a moshav, which is like a kibbutz but with parcels of different land given to each family, in central Palestine. It had been established in 1933 by German Jews, probably part of the Labor Zionist movement.
There are photos of mum feeding chickens there (show). But she did not recall her time there favourably. The family left and travelled to Paris from where they went to Australia. They arrived by ship in Australia in June 1939 when mum was 7.
Mum had apparently asked why the family was going to Australia and recalled having been told “because it is as far away from here as we can get”.
The family had some money. Immigration records show they brought 5.500 pounds to Australia- not a bad sum for those days.
Margret was brought up in Camberwell. She lost both her parents young. Her father Paul died of a heart condition when mum was 11. Her mother remarried for the third time. Our grandmother’s third husband was Charlie, a Belsen survivor. Mum said she behaved badly towards him simply because he was not her father. He died as well. It must have been all too much for Ilse and she took her own life when Mum was 19, six weeks after Charlie’s death.
So we never got to know our maternal grandparents. But they influenced our lives in different ways.
Ilse ran what we gather was quite a successful textile factory. She purchased the land at Anglesea in the 1940’s. This was a purchase of amazing foresight and another stroke of luck for Margret and indeed for us as well. Many of you will have been there at one time or another.
Our grandfather exerted an influence too but in a different way. He had artistic talents and put together this collage (show) which shows mum as a child trying to do too many things at the one time.
But his main influence was through his ideas. These were set out in a brief testament of some 2,500 words, written just prior to his death.
His testament had short chapters on Nationalism and Religion, both of which he railed against. Perhaps his anti-nationalist views were most influenced by Nazism. But neither do they appear to have been tempered by whatever his experience of Zionists on the moshav might have been.
The testimony also has chapters on Socialism, Education and the reading of history, all of which he favoured. It ends with a chapter entitled ‘Human Fellows’.
In some ways, the testimony is very much a reflection of the times. It is, for example, more internationalist, or even integrationist in outlook, than it is multi-cultural. But in other ways it remains insightful and still relevant. Here is an early passage:
“Humanity is going through a dark age of extreme nationalism. To you, my children, growing up in a rapidly changing world, I would like to clear a path through the thicket of prejudices, so that you may acquire a free and conscious mind. Although fled from the terror of Nazi Europe you are no Jews. The teachings and customs of the Jews are as strange to you as those of the Eskimos or Gypsies. But you are no Germans or Britons or Australians either. And that is your difficulty. But with the proper outlook it can be a great help to make you free and conscious citizens of the world.”
So did mum identify as Jewish despite her father’s view? At least in one respect she did. There was no escaping the fact that being Jewish, or Jewish enough, was why she was here. She never shied away from acknowledging that to us.
When we were kids we enjoyed elements of our Austrian heritage; the most obvious manifestations were great food and the regular playing of classical music.
The most direct human connection with our Austrian heritage was through Gretel and Edgar Neurath (photo). They were close friends of mum’s parents with whom mum maintained a relationship right throughout our childhoods and later.
Gretel and Edgar’s son, Robert Neurath, will now say a few words.
Mum was educated at Methodist Ladies College in Kew. There she met Vivien Pincombe who would become a lifelong friend.
At mum’s 80th birthday Jenny read an extract from Mum’s diary. This contained mum’s New Year resolutions as a 14 year old.
- Be less bossy- (A resolution perhaps never quite achieved in full).
- Be less self- centred- (We will say that was achieved).
- Get a boyfriend in Melbourne- (I assume this might have been achieved).
- Work well at school and try to get on with the other kids better.
- Don’t think you know better than other people because you don’t really.
- Be less contrary. (There appears to be a theme here!).
- Keep friendship up with Pincombs, they have been good friends to you.
Vivien Pincomb will now say some words.
Vivien to speak
After MLC Margret went onto study science at Melbourne University; She met our father Clyde at Uni’ through the ALP club. Margret said Clyde told her that he had looked her up because she was one of the few members he had not recruited to the Labor club and so he was curious about her.
People that Margret and Clyde met at Melbourne University included John Button, Jill and Frank Eastwood, John and Inga Clendinnen, Barry Jones and Jim Cairns. Inga and John also had a holiday house at Angelsea and we in turn became life long friends with their kids Steve and Richie.
Jill Eastwood, who married Frank, who is here with Muriel, had two children, Sarah and John. Jill died too young some 22 years ago. Sarah has continued to regularly visit mum after she moved into the nursing home, for which we are very grateful.
Sarah has asked me to say:
“Marg and Jill Eastwood, then Lundy, met at the Melbourne Uni Labour Club in the 1950’s. They became great friends.
My father Frank met Marg through Jill in 1961. Friday nights were Labour nights at Clyde and Marg’s in Muir St, Hawthorn.
Because Jill and Marg were so close, Marg was a part of the Eastwood family – and has been a significant person in my life. When John and I were very young we thought of her as like an aunt. Later we were friends and when Jill died she was a great support to me.
Marg was an open, welcoming person with good values. Jill stipulated in her will that if John and I were ever orphaned as children our extended family had to ensure that we spent time each year with Marg.
Marg was beautiful, blunt, brave and pragmatic. We loved her and will miss her.”
Thank you Sare.
Margret had some money from her inheritance and she gave some to Clyde in order to buy a legal practice off Jack Lazarus. After various incarnations along the way this practice became what is today Holding Redlich.
Clyde was elected as the member for Richmond in 1962 and our family moved from Muir Street in Hawthorn to Waltham Street in Richmond. Clyde became Leader of the State Opposition in 1967. Looking back on it I am not sure that either Mum or I always made his life as a political leader all that easy.
I will skip over my own teenage transgressions to focus on those of Mum’s.
Dad of course was trying to win the catholic vote. In these years DLP preferences to the Liberals played an important, sometimes decisive, role in keeping state Labor out of power. It led Clyde into internal party conflicts over state aid. But I also doubt he would have been overly thrilled to wake up to a headline in the Sunday Observer. The headline was: “I would have an abortion says Opposition Leader’s wife”.
Richmond was very different in those days. We liked being brought up in Richmond and I think mum liked living there. Local friends included Dixie and Gloria Lee and their family, Peter and Rhonda Byrne and Lina Pignataro and her daughter Rosie.
In 1970 Margret and Clyde separated (the first time) and Mum moved down to the house she had bought in Nicholson Street Abbotsford. (photo of Nicholson St)
We kids stayed down in Abbotsford with mum during the week and up with dad at Waltham street on weekends.
There seemed to be a never ending parade of interesting people through both of my parents’ houses in these years. Broadly speaking it was Labor party people up at Dad’s. Some Labor Party people also visited Mum’s. But there were also plenty to the left of that. There was a fair bit of drinking at both houses, though mum herself was never a heavy drinker.
Visitors to mum’s did not just come on weekends. They seemed to come at any old time. It was my impression that they didn’t even ring before hand. They would just come, usually with a bottle of wine, or two, in hand and settle in to conversation- about anything really, but very often about politics.
Frequent visitors to Margret’s place included Dave Rubin, Margret Mortimer, Moe Singh (who is here with Jamie), Wes Hall and Bob Monahan. One day Wes brought a young woman who would become very special to mum- Marian Miller.
A few years later Mum and Dad got back together again. Mum then rented out the Abbotsford house. Various people lived there- Moe, Grant Evans, Chris Hector, Peter Neilsen, Reece Lamshed and Marian.
Marian has asked me to say some things on her behalf:
“I loved Margret because she was forthright, fair-minded, inquiring, optimistic, kind, encouraging and supportive.
She offered practical help – supporting her family & friends decisively when the need arose without expecting anything in return.
Some of my examples:
- Helping me move when I left a destructive relationship;
- Offering to help me buy an apartment;
- Noticing there was a problem with one of my pregnancies when medicos were telling me all was OK
- Introducing me to the people renting her house in Nicholson St. This placed my life on a new trajectory, into a broad circle of like minded people & lifetime relationships.
Margret was a careful listener and when asked a giver of excellent advice.
She was intellectual and cultured but in no way a snob.
She befriended all sorts & seemed particularly attracted to non-conformists; she celebrated difference. She focussed on making her world and ours a fairer, more dignified and friendlier place.”
Thank you Marian.
Mum and dad’s decision to get back together, around 1972 or 73, I think on the rebound from other relationships, was not one of their best decisions.
Margret liked to tell the story that Gough Whitlam thanked her for having returned to the relationship with Clyde in time for a forthcoming election. Mum was a bit taken aback at this comment, thinking that the election had nothing to do with it. But did it?
One thing about mum was she seemed to be interested in, and easily make friends with, the friends of her own children. She continued coming to the theatre with me and my friends Heather and Bill, Denny and Beth and Dick and Beth when she was really very disabled. Truth is she came for the company more than the plays. It would have been impossible for mum to continue coming without my friends help and kindness to her for which I thank them.
Denny Meadows, had a friendship with each one of mum’s kids- he went to secondary school with Jenni, to uni with me and worked in the law with Danny.
Denny will say a few words.
Denny to speak
We will now have a musical interlude and look at some photos.
Mum had a good professional life. She studied science at university and commenced her career as a teacher, having to resign from her first job upon marrying as the rules dictated back at the time. While we were still growing up she studied psychology and worked for a time in the psych and guidance section of the Education Department.
I remember her describing some admiration for Freud as the first thinker to seriously attempt to analyse the structure of human emotions. I remember her explaining to me the concepts of the ID, the ego and superego. But Margret was also a bit of sceptic about psychology. She believed, for example, that our defences are an integral part of our personality, rather than being something necessarily negative.
I think her scepticism about psychology was also steeped by a realisation that her capacity to assist problem kids in the psych and guidance department was limited. She found that the problems they suffered were not easily severable from broader social problems, or from dysfunctional families, over which the psychologist had no real control.
Mum finished her career at Hawthorn Teacher’s College teaching educational psychology to potential teachers. Many of her students were tradies and they were not always that open to the ideas of educational psychology.
She liked to tell the story of one of her male tradie students who had said to her “You are a good sort Marg. But ya talk a lot of bull”.
Mum had great colleagues at Hawthorn, who she socialised with outside of work many of whom are here. Dick Cotter will say a few words on behalf of them. (photo mum with Hawthorn colleagues)
After their second separation mum eventually returned to living at the Abbotsford house. I remember we gave mum a big surprise 50th birthday party and she was truly surprised.
But perhaps her biggest surprise, and another huge stroke of luck in her life, came just a few years later. This was when Mum met Alan Clemens. (Photo Alan and mum)
At her 80th birthday Margret, who Alan gave the nickname Margie, described the years with Alan as her happiest. Alan’s son Griff will now say some words on behalf of the Clemens family.
Griff to speak
My wife Mischa will now say a few words.
Jenni will now say a few words.
Danny will now say a few words.
I want to finish by saying something very briefly about the final years of mum’s life. Some of Margret’s good luck went missing in her later years.
She was in good health until 80 continuing to play doubles tennis regularly up until then. But she did not take well to older age at all, especially after Alan’s death.
She told me she did not fear death but feared disability and the loss of her independence. Unfortunately event after event seemed to lead to her worst fears about old age coming true. She got shingles, the symptoms of which never completely abated, then had two minor strokes, the second of which meant she had to go into a nursing home.
Over the last few years mum found social interaction quite difficult. I think this stemmed from a combination of deafness, hearing aids that never seemed to work properly and the aftermath of the two strokes.
Fortunately one thing she could continue to do quite well was play scrabble, which we played most times when I visited her. And she even managed to make new friend, a scrabble buddy, John Metcalf who lived near the nursing home and would drop in quite regularly to play a game with mum- thanks John.
In the end mum’s death was a release that she had longed for quite some time. In the very end, she awoke. She was comforted and did not die alone.
Mum lived a full and interesting life, with more good luck in it than bad luck. She had wise parents, was able to find refuge in a good country, not ending up somewhere like Manus Island. She had good looks, was economically comfortable and received a good education. She made good investments. She had two interesting husbands and probably, prior to Alan, her share of interesting lovers as well. She found rewarding work with good work colleagues and had three kids who loved her. Most important of all, she succeeded in touching family and friends in the many positive ways we have just heard about.
Really mum, what more could a convinced atheist like you ask for?
Thank you for having celebrated Margret’s life with us here today.
We will end with some more music and photos and hope to catch those of you who have time for refreshments.