(doll’s)

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Bev­er­ley McKern Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

I think of her as a real per­son. But she is not. Real peo­ple get older, and look older, no mat­ter how much they may try to deny the pas­sage of time. This old girl has been with me all my life. She is now 96.

When my mother was six she was given this beau­ti­ful doll. She called it Bev­er­ley and it be­came her con­stant com­pan­ion. When I ar­rived, my mother named me af­ter the doll. So as a lit­tle girl I called her Baby Doll; per­haps it was too con­fus­ing for my young mind to deal with the ex­is­tence of two Beverleys.

Baby Doll looks like a three-month-old baby, al­beit a pale pink cel­lu­loid model. Chubby body, legs and arms; a beau­ti­ful face with twin­kling eyes; and a soft smile. No sign of tell­tale wrinkles. Her clothes are not the lat­est fash­ion, but at her age that is unim­por­tant. What a life she has had. Just af­ter she ar­rived, my mother with her par­ents, two brothers and seven sis­ters left their home in Tas­ma­nia to set­tle in Vic­to­ria. Mum was the youngest child and the older chil­dren were look­ing to find em­ploy­ment.

But times were tough for the fam­ily. World War I was not long over and the De­pres­sion years lay ahead, but the fam­ily sur­vived. So did Baby Doll.

I first knew her when I was about three. She had been liv­ing with my grand­par­ents.

My par­ents and I lived in Syd­ney for a few years af­ter my birth. My mum and I waved Dad off as he left on the Queen Mary, then a troop ship, for the war in the Middle East.

We came back to Mel­bourne to live with my grand­par­ents.

Baby Doll be­came my con­stant com­pan­ion. Af­ter­noon teas at the ta­ble and chairs that Grandpa had made — she be­came the cen­tre of at­ten­tion, and so did I.

She was there through all the de­spair of the war years. The ra­tion books, the fam­ily dra­mas, the daily grind of mak­ing ends meet. None of th­ese prob­lems were known to Baby Doll at the time, of course.

Then one day the front door bell rang. I rushed to the door, closely fol­lowed by Nanna. A man handed an en­ve­lope to Nanna. Aun­ties gath­ered around.

The scream­ing and wail­ing that fol­lowed is em­bed­ded in my brain.

The tele­gram in­formed the fam­ily that the younger son, my un­cle Tassie, had been killed in the war. Mum rushed to hug me. I rushed to hug Baby Doll.

Baby Doll is a spe­cial mem­ber of our fam­ily as she re­gally sits on a chair wait­ing to be part of the next gen­er­a­tion. What ex­tra­or­di­nary changes we have both seen as we have jour­neyed on to­gether.

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