Niki’s Tantes

The Aunties love hearing stories about Aunties, good, bad or indifferent. Here is one from Aunty Niki who was prompted to think about her aunties when she attended ‘Tiddling Tales with The Aunties’. Thanks Niki, love The Valet.

“Stories of my Aunties, or Tantes, isn’t something I often give great consideration. Our family is spread around the globe and being of great dysfunction we aren’t especially close. I haven’t enjoyed the experiences so many others may have had. However I was surprised as I looked back through life at how much my Aunties have impacted on who I am today.

Aunties, I have a few, ones I love, ones not so much, some by birth, some by marriage, and one honorary Aunt. One thing that is true for them all is that I have learnt something from them, both good and bad. They are all survivors, or not, of something profound.

As a child I watched as my family from Holland came and went. Big family gatherings where two cultures met, the Dutch and the Australian. When my aunts visited they found their voice, when the uncles visited the women lost their voices in a shroud of chauvinism and arrogance. I felt despair and confusion watching people change, but most of all I learnt.

I have four Aunts by family. My mother had four sisters, my eldest Aunt was Johanna, she was a full spirited feisty and stunning woman whose name I inherited and I imagine some spirit. I have been assured she could beat just about any bloke in Ballarat in a fight that thankfully isn’t a hobby of mine. It is also thought that Johanna may have like me had Aspergers syndrome.

I never met Johanna, she survived a nasty motorcycle accident which left her without use of her legs, a life she could not bare and Johanna took her own life not long before my birth. Despite never being in my life I guess I learned more from Johanna than one might expect. I learnt to care for people with disabilities but more than that, she prepared me for the devastation I would experience when the man I had loved for thirteen years also took his own life.

I would not let his loss destroy my family as the loss of Johanna had destroyed the generation before me.

The next eldest Aunt is Marlene, Marlene and I do not see eye to eye on anything in life but during a visit with her in her home in Scotland when I was 17 did change the direction that I was taking at the time and I will always have some level of gratitude. Marlene doesn’t have the spirit of the other sisters; she is conservative and as interesting as canned soup. I never wanted to live with such arrogance so fueled by ignorance.

Then there is Bernadette, we were once good friends but the projection of her own bitterness onto my own life and those I have loved became a process that I could not endure. Bernadette struggles with bi-polar and alcohol abuse, both rife in her generation. Bernadette has always been the great disempowered. She worked in disabilities services and in child protection. All I could see was her disempowering others with her own bitterness. The bitterness she felt about her Johanna and the devastation for women raised in a post WW2 world.

I heard she recently had a break down. I would love to reconnect, show her some support, but the hurt of being let down by her when I needed her most is still a stain upon my heart.

The youngest of the sisters is Anita, who also has Aspergers Syndrome, and just for good measure a bit of ADHD.  Anita was just fifteen when she lost her mother and came from Holland to live with us. She was very troubled but she took time to share with nine year old me the best European Punk and new wave music. I would be forever changed, music, art and literature wise, after her stay.

She was sent home after trying to set fire to her room in a psychiatric ward. The curtains were thankfully fire retardant,however it just drove her crazier.

I missed her when she was gone, I was back to having no friends and my invisible life.

A couple of years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy and has been clear for three years now. I am so proud of her strength to overcome. She did upset the family though, by managing the financial issues during her ill health by building a hydroponic marijuana set-up in her roof. Anita’s experience with breast cancer drew us closer to some degree. It was just a couple of years earlier that, through early detection, my fate with a dreaded tumour meant that I was luckier than Anita. I wouldn’t have minded some new pert breasts like she got, but I wouldn’t wish chemotherapy upon anyone.

By marriage I have three Aunts. Meip who survived the most hideous of men and significant abuse. I have not seen Meip for twenty years but remember her kindness and generous spirit. In watching Meip when I was a seventeen year old, I was given a forewarning for the signs of abuse. It was perhaps this that allowed me to see the relationship I was in was headed down the same road and ended it.

Then there is Ali, like Meip, a beautiful kind spirit. Both Meip and Ali live in Holland. Ali, as beautiful as she is, showed me that I was never to be a simple home maker and wall flower. Our Dutch family is rife with chauvinism and I couldn’t bare watching a gorgeous intelligent woman deprived of her voice for the sake of a ‘good’ provider and family home.

The last of my Aunts to share with you is by far my favourite. Dear Rosemary. Rosemary was one of the most amazing women I have ever met. She was the strongest, most intelligent, determined, down to earth and an amazing artist. She used to lecture here in Ballarat.  When I was twenty-four Rosemary lost a long battle with Cancer. She spent her last months in Spain doing a residency. In the last conversation I had with her she laid in hospital in Spain, in agony, feeling depleted of all life and dignity, crying because she was no longer strong enough to hold her own cutlery. I think she would like to have died then but she fought long enough to return to Australia. She had planned her own funeral, five hundred people wearing various shades of pink flooded the funeral home.

A sea of vibrant beauty and colour just like Rosemary herself. The University of Queensland named an award for second year art students in her honour, thus she will continue to shape and inspire people as she has me.

Rosemary was one of those people who you meet in life that can help you make sense of just about everything. When my lack of ability to fit in with my family, even at seven, left me feeling small and voiceless, there was Rosemary glancing at me encouragingly. When I couldn’t express my thoughts, she would read me like a book. I miss having Rosemary in my life. She was the Aunt that all of my other aunts weren’t.


Me and my Aunty Rosemary.

The last of the Aunts is my honorary Aunt Helen. She gave me a place to stay when I had nowhere to go.

Helen had AIDS, she was a pioneer in both gay rights and HIV education in Australia in the nineties. She was a voice for sex workers and no matter how ill, she dedicated her time to visiting those whose days were passing quickly in the AIDS units in Sydney. She traveled far and wide teaching people how to protect themselves, and how to care for themselves.

No matter who you were Helen treated you the same. Even the junkies in the dark lane-ways of Kings Cross. All of the people everyone else seemed to forget.

Whilst I was living with Helen, she haemorrhaged. I found her lying in a pool of blood on the floor, she yelled for me not to come near but I did. I called an ambulance and held her head in my lap until they came. Like Helen I was unconcerned for myself despite her frustration, and have done so numerous times since because Helen showed me that be selfless is the greatest gift you can give to another, especially in great times of need.

Where many of my other Aunts had taught me judgementally, on both my part and theirs, Helen stripped that away. She showed me everyone matters, we are all human, our experiences are human and often shared. Few people know Helen’s name, or the work that she did, but she touched more people than anyone I know.

So I don’t have many lovely Aunties stories, nor the benefit of spending great amounts of time with my Aunts. Yet they have all done something most Aunts do, shape parts of you and impart wisdom. Because of these women who have come before me I have found strength either because of them, or inspite of them.

Through my Aunts I have gained empathy, experience, love, music, patience, and much more. Most of all I have a fire in my belly, to not allow the continuance of damaging patterns of dysfunction, as either a woman or a mother, and to my Aunties I say thank you.

Love Aunty Niki”

Thank you darling Aunty Niki for your story of pain and happiness, hard to have one without the other. We encourage all our readers to send stories of your aunties to me with a pic or two and I’ll give them to the girls to read and publish.

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One Response to “Niki’s Tantes”
  1. Aunty Beads says:

    Dear Niki, what a touching and brave tale. Family is a funny thing and you have weathered all storms it seems.
    Thank you for sharing.

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