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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Vale Phyllis Mary Turner 1912-2009

‘Grandma Kangaroo’ was a very small person but she took up a lot of space. She had always been something of an extraordinary woman, but it was not until I read her memoir about a year ago that I realised just how resilient a survivor she was, (and therefore all the more extraordinary). Her rambunctious puppet performances of Punch and Judy at our childhood parties suddenly took on a new meaning for me when seen in the context of that vulnerable child growing up in the slums of Glebe, poor and as good as fatherless, helping her destitute single mother raise her three younger brothers. It gave me an insight into the determination that was later to characterise her greatest achievements. Despite the family’s claim that the memoir is full of distortions and embellishments that cast her in a favourable light, one can’t discount as fabrication the rich and intricate details of, for example, the inventive games she made up to amuse herself, using bits of things she found in the streets, or the facts of that long, lost journey she made as an eleven year old all the way down the Parramatta Rd in the dark, her baby brother on her hip, after her father had abandoned her to go off drinking at the hotel. Grandma received so little attention as a child that she sure made up for it in her later years. I’m quite sure she’d be extremely miffed at her celebrity status being stolen by Michael Jackson. We have heard today of her considerable achievements - the greatest of which she claimed were her children - along with her academic achievements, all borne of that same tough determination. Despite Punch and Judy, it was Grandma who taught us that ‘little birds in a nest must agree’ and that ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’. Grandma gave us stories; she was a big reader herself, as well as a big talker and a writer, and she successfully promoted the pursuit of the literary and high academic goals in her children and in all their offspring. Then there were the stories about her, and they will go on forever. I’m sure we’ll hear plenty more of them today as we celebrate her remarkable life. So I suppose what I am saying is, Grandma, you were extraordinary in life, and unforgettable in death; on behalf of the grandchildren, thank you for enriching our lives with colour, determination, inspiration and stories, and goodbye.

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