10 May 1948 – 14 September 1998
Date: Tue, 14 Dec 1999 17:29:42 +1100 To: email@example.com Subject: Memories of Hazel
It’s more than a year since Hazel’s death and it has taken me this long to come to terms with it. You and Josh and Zoë have been constantly in my thoughts.
I have spent some time in England and whilst I was there I saw Roger Johnson. He shared a flat with Hazel when he went to Canberra - probably six months or so after she emigrated - I think the other inhabitants of the flat might have been Mel and George. Roger sends his condolences.
Now I can write something about the Hazel I knew, that her children will not have the opportunity to know about from her. So, this is part of the story of Hazel the university student at Southampton. We lived in a large Victorian house, Bassett House, which the University had made into four self-contained 2- or 3-bedroom flats. We lived upstairs in different flats. Hazel had a single room. I shared with Deborah Jones, and Jill Birch had the single room in our flat.
Hazel was a person who hated shopping for clothes as much as I did and who taught me that doing a season’s shopping in one day was the only sensible way to go. In the days of the mini skirt, I remember one mistake which Hazel made in her purchasing, because I was the beneficiary. She really liked a dark blue gored skirt, patterned with white and turquoise flowers. In the shop, she was convinced she had the nerve to wear it on the street. When we got to Bassett House, with our day’s purchases (mine included a brown fitted dress with flared skirt and tangerine trim), Hazel’s nerve failed in the flash of Marks & Sparks knickers at each movement, and I bought the skirt from her, as it was a still fashionable but somewhat more modest length on me.
Hazel was a keen tennis player, and we’d go to one of the other Halls of Residence in the long summer evenings to play there, before adjourning to the pub - often the White Swan (known of course as the Mucky Duck).
She was big on the development of social skills, and bridge was one of them. Playing cards is not my thing, and I’ve never got beyond the basics of bridge, so I would leave after the first part of the evening, but Hazel would play into the wee small hours. The ‘school’ took place in the house of a student whose name, I think, was Simon Spencer. What I remember was the quality of the atmosphere - hazy - and the quality of the lighting - subdued. It was also the first place I had a champagne breakfast. I don’t know about Hazel’s reaction to it, I think she just took it in her stride, but I was wide-eyed; it was all so novelesque. (In spite of all her lessons, I was only ever ‘ordinary’ as a tennis player or a bridge player.)
The third social skill which Hazel (and Jill Birch) thought was important was drawing. Hazel was convinced that she could teach me to draw, where all of my art teachers had failed. So we practised with those two artefacts of student life - the book and the bottle. I can now draw the book in 3-D, but never mastered the bottle. From the paintings Hazel did, books and bottles seemed to remain firm favourites.
One of my most vivid memories of Hazel at university illustrates her eccentricty or perhaps her strength of will. At the end of our second year, we had to take exams known as Part 1s, and these exams were "high hurdles". If we didn’t pass them, we could expect to be thrown out. In Hazel’s course - Botany and Geography - the failure rate was traditionally quite high, and so she set herself up to study seriously and with a determination characteristic of her later life. She decided that she had to set to one side the difference between day and night, eat when she was hungry rather than when meals were served, and study in isolation. So she blacked out the windows in her bedroom, bought a high wattage bulb for her desk lamp and then filtered the light and wore sunglasses. To even up the temprature, she put on the heating - I think it must have been an electric fire (radiator) because the central heating would have been off in June. The she dressed in her bikini and settled in. We organised food and left it in the passage way outside her door. It must have been an effective strategy, because she passed!
After those exams, our paths diverged, because I went to France and Spain for fifteen months as part of my four-year course and Hazel finished her degree after one more year and went to secretarial college. I know we met once in Bath, and I went to see her when she worked at the Royal Chemical Society.
Then we both went to live abroad - Hazel in Australia and I in St. Vincent - and we wrote quite regularly. Hazel could convey a sense of place and society easily. Her description of a pool party reminded me of how I’d felt at the champagne breakfast. You had the feeling that she thought it was all rather too extravagant. I think it was at that first pool party too that she learned about the stratification of Australian society into blokes and sheilas, and made the decision that this had to change. She wrote too about Australia being a very "physical" place, with an emphasis on the body and all kinds of physical activity. She also reflected on what she saw as a lack of reserve, which was related to this physicality. From the early letters, there was the sense that Hazel had found the place where she could be herself. She wrote that people were accepted for who they were rather than who they knew and that Australia was a place where an individual could make an impact. She saw Canberra as the only place to be in the early 1970s, as it was where major decisions were made and the face of Australia was being fundamentally changed.
In late 1974, I emigrated to Sydney, and saw Hazel fairly frequently. It seemd to make sense that, when I was offered a job at the National Library at the beginning of 1976, I should rent a room in Hazel’s house in Sherbrooke Street, Ainslie. Sybille has spoken about the Hazel I knew at that time, but I’d like to record one anecdote about Hazel’s sense of justice and her ability to intervene. When I turned up at the National Library on the Monday, to take up my new career, they were surprised to see me, as the previous Thursday they had sent me an express letter to withdraw the letter of offer. Of course, I didn’t receive the letter as I’d had to relinquish the lease on the flat in Sydney and move out on the Wednesday, so it could be re-tenanted on the Saturday. That Monday evening an outraged Hazel made some phone calls, eventually making contact with John Brudenall, the deputy Parliamentary Librarian. He became my advocate, insisting that the Commonwealth at least pay my out-of-pocket expenses and provide me with a letter indicating the circumstances under which they would later employ me. (His actions subsequently changed the way in which the Comonwealth made offers of employment to new graduates)
At the time, Hazel was still working on the woodchip enquiry, but she was studying law part time and beginning to find the ways of seeing the world that marked out the later phases of her life.
My memories are of someone who was a good companion and a good friend; someone who was not afraid of a challenge and who was always alert to the possibilities of the new.
Hilary was an old friend of Hazel’s.