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Hello, I’m Karen Darby, and I am going to read from ‘Inside the Ottoman’, the diaries of my mother, Ann Jennings.
My mother Ann passed away in the hour before the dawn, in June of 2002. The first winter snow fell during her wake several days later. It was then that I clearly heard ‘the voice of one just dead.’
I was absent-mindedly arranging some flowers in a huge empty room whose leadlight windows opened out onto a magnificent garden. Here, in what was once known to us children as the billiard room, she and my father would entertain a never-ending stream of bohemians – actors, writers and friends – continuously, it seemed to me, throughout the 1950s.
A CD left in the player echoed the words of Leo Kottke’s song:
Late last night I stood outside this room
Without the moon these windows were black,
But I could see that I was not mistaken,
I would never be coming back.
As I listened I became aware of my mother’s presence, looking in through the beautiful windows from the veranda, where she would often sit to watch the sunrise, enjoying the songs of the early morning birds in the garden of her beloved home, “Ashfield”.
Later, in her diary of 1945, I came across the epigraph:
‘There be three silent things:
the hour before the dawn
the falling snow
the voice of one just dead.’
The voice of one just dead may be silent, but Ann’s words live on.
My mother was a woman of great spirit. She valued personal freedom above all else and in the end paid a great price for her relentless pursuit of it in her personal life. In 1946, after the death of her first child at birth, she wrote the following:
Somewhere inside me an ache persists for life in abundance, that queer quick mystery that winks at you from crowds, from across lighted harbours, from restaurants in big cities, from streets and snow-capped mountains and foreign places. Something that urges me to live with all my keenness and energy, even if it means poverty and struggle. Rather would I live with that bright blade within me and die from it, than live where things are ordinary, comfortable and settled. I want to be so filled with this madness that I work at no matter what so long as I was my own master, until the madness kills me.”
ABOUT KAREN DARBY:
Karen Darby was conceived on Maria Island and spent her early childhood on the slopes of Mt Wellington in Tasmania. She grew up in Hobart, studied in Sydney and later lived in Adelaide where she married, raised two children and taught overseas students at secondary and tertiary level. She is now a professional astrologer and lives on Bruny Island just south of Tasmania, where she is currently working on ‘Ancestral Voices’, a work in progress, bringing to light the writings of two twentieth century women, her mother and grandmother, and finding her own voice along the way.
“My current project ‘Inside the Ottoman’, (part 2 of ‘Ancestral Voices’) was shortlisted last year for the Varuna Publisher Fellowships and has recently been awarded the Eric Dark Flagship Fellowship for non-fiction. I am looking forward to my first visit to Varuna in early 2012 to prepare this material for publication.” Karen Darby
1996 ‘Lines from My Grandmother’s Lips’ published 40 Degrees South, Issue 2
A second article ‘Rabbit Hunting’ was published in Issue 8
2004 article published in Canadian magazine Reminisce
2005 extracts published in ‘Forever Yours: Australia’s Hidden Loveletters’, published ABC Books, Nov 2005
2006 contributor to Wildcare Tasmania Nature Writing competition
(runner up prize published Island magazine Issue 109 )
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