It would have been Nana’s 99th birthday today —– or would it?

It would have been Nana’s 99th birthday today —– or would it?

Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Hall, nee Goddard, nee Robertson – my Nana, 1987

Nana emigrated to Australia with her parents as a child, back in the days when passports weren’t as essential as they are now. In the ’90s (I think) she decided that she wanted to go on a cruise with a friend, so applied for a passport, only to discover she didn’t have a valid birth certificate. The one she had travelled to Australia on apparently had a corresponding death certificate dated just a few months or weeks after.

My Mum and especially my Aunty Lynny did a lot of digging, and Lynny was in close contact with some people in the relevant departments back in Scotland, but eventually the trail went cold and it was reluctantly accepted that no official birth certificate existed for her.

This wasn’t such a shock – in the early 1900’s, home births were far more prevalent, health services were in their infancy compared to today, and having a child out of wedlock was right up there with blashpemy or worse.

To add another twist to the story, when my Gan and Ganpa passed away (or possibly before?) Nana found a stack of letters in a box in a wardrobe which seemed to be from her birth mother, enquiring how she was doing. I was briefly told of these letters many years ago but never saw them – I suspect they were destroyed and any names or dates or details destroyed along with them.

The story, pieced together with a LOT of assumption and circumstantial guesswork, is that Nana was probably/possibly the daughter of a young serving girl who had gotten pregnant by someone in a position of authority, possibly an English Lord or something similar. I suppose it was equally likely that she had just got knocked up by a local bloke. My biological great grandmother, it is assumed, would have been sent south of the border to England to stay with relatives or friends or a midwife, there to have the baby away from the prying eyes of a judgemental society – apparently this was far from unusual. If it was considered so ‘normal’ then why was it necessary at all? Different times…

The baby was then brought to Australia by my Gan and Ganpa – who were possibly cousin/aunty or uncle to the woman?, or maybe family friends? – and, according to all involved and the ridiculous social mores of the time, everyone would live happily ever after.

It seems brutal and heartless almost a hundred years later, because it is brutal and heartless. I’ve often wondered whether Nana felt abandoned, disconnected by these events, and whether that affected what she chose to do with her life. She was never one to talk about it, which is a shame, and though I tried many times in her later years to persuade her to write down her memories of another time – another world, almost – she never did that I am aware of. Certainly nothing was dug up when she passed on March 10th, 2017.

She never did go on that cruise or, indeed, ever get a passport.

The first photo here was taken in 1987 – some 22 years ago – when she was a sprightly 77. As always, with a mid-strength beer in arm’s reach! She was a funny bird, and I miss her terribly. The second was many years previous, when she was a champion Scottish dancer, standing in front of her many medals and trophies. I don’t recall ever seeing her dance, sadly.

Nana with her dancing awards and trophies, year unknown

So would she have been 99 today – or 97, or 101? Was the 10th September even her actual birthday? I don’t think we will ever know for sure, so we celebrate today as we have done my whole life, remembering and being thankful for her whole life.

Had my Nana not been born, not been brought to Australia when she was, not met my Poppa… well, put it this way… they had three kids. Between my Mum, Uncle and Aunty, they have seven of Nana & Poppa’s grandkids. Between all of us, so far we have eleven great grandkids to them. That’s a LOT of life to have given back to the world, no matter how poorly it treated you.

Love you, Nana <3

Shane Pinnegar
Shane Pinnegar is an author, chef and music/pop culture writer who lives in Western Australia. He has a lovely wife, two rambunctious dogs with no respect for personal space, especially on the sofa or bed, twenty-something koi, a flock of itinerate galahs who visit regularly, and a never-comprehensive-enough rock n' roll record collection.

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