Khani’s positive energy
Life has been a rollercoaster for Mossman’s Khani Hawthorne but an overriding quality is her irrepressible spirit, as Shane Nichols discovered when they sat down for a chat.
ve had a full life,” Khani Hawthorne prefaces our conversation, and it’s no understatement. There are brushes with ghosts, eastern and western spirituality, births, deaths and marriages and colourful antecedents that reach back to Ned Kelly and a renowned explorer from Western Australia, J.S Roe.
Khani was born in Bowral, NSW, during the war her parents having evacuated from Sydney after the Japanese attacks in the Harbour.
Eventually they returned to Sydney’s northern beaches.
In her young days she spent a lot of time with her grandmother who had a little cottage in Dee Why, Sydney – “it was a country town by the sea back then,” she says.
Granny’s four kids were part of the Stolen Generation. One was Khani’s father. They had hidden much of their heritage.
But Khani was a great listener and was enthralled by the stories the old lady would tell.
“It was interesting but we didn’t talk publicly anything about aboriginality or anything to do with Ned Kelly, but granny used to let things slip all the time.
“But I used to sleep at granny’s on Friday nights and she’d talk all night under the possum-skin rug with these stories, and I’ve got them stored away.”
Khani went to girls high schools on Sydney’s lower North Shore but finished her education in Mt Isa in 1958 where the family had moved when her father, a builder, won a contract there.
She returned to Dee Why and took a job as a ticket writer with Woolworths in downtown Sydney.
At 18 she married, having her first baby, Cindee, in 1962, when she was 20.
A couple of years later she had Eddie, followed by Nigel.
Her husband, a butcher, suffered a near-fatal industrial accident. In recovery he got hooked on morphine and the relationship fell apart. She lost her house.
Later she met the renowned “Chisel” – Ian McCormack – and they moved to Cairns, where her last child, Marc, was born.
They lived in a cottage in Mossman, built of cedar in 1912, that was said to have been haunted by a man reputed to have been killed there.
“Everyone who’s lived there has had encounters with him,” Khani says.
She had jobs along the way that included teaching yoga, which she says she introduced to the district, and was instrumental in the establishment of TAFE courses in the town.
She is very proud of her involvement First Lady of Centenary events in Mossman back in 1976, commemorating the foundation of the district.
The marriage with Ian deteriorated and Khani decided to move away to Cairns with the children.
She got by with teaching at TAFE in Cairns, including courses that introduced indigenous people to mainstream culture and practices.
She arranged the first indigenous cultural art show at the then new Cairns Civic Centre and was also in the local arts council, which had programs for children in the schools. It was a financial struggle to raise her kids. “I was very busy. When I look back I don’t know how I fitted it all in.”
Khani remained single for the next 30 years.
During this time she was elder on a federal indigenous council, an advisory board for the government, and she walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the famous Reconciliation March.
Along the way Khani went to university and took a degree in social sciences.
While she was nursing her ailing father, over five years in northern NSW, she met Jack Scarrabelotti, a war veteran.
“Jack was really great. We travelled a lot because the kids were off my hands then.”
They had married and around 2000 they moved to the tropics for his health.
With Jack they had bought a place in Whitfield but Jack died around the same time.
The day he died she answered a knock on her door and a pair of female drug addicts assaulted her in an attempted robbery. And they killed her little dog.
“It was just one of those things. I felt I couldn’t sleep in that house any longer, so I decided to come back to the quiet country town, back to Mossman.”
She was still teaching meditation, which she first took up at 8, and began her laughter classes which are still running.
“Sometimes I wonder how I ever got through it all,” she says. “Spiritually it’s been a big ride. I’ve had everything in my life. And I’ve lived life – I haven’t sat back and let it come to me.”
Khani Hawthorne at her Mossman home. INSET: Khani on the beach