10 May 1948 – 14 September 1998
15 September 1999
Dear Rob, Josh and Zoë,
At the time of Hazel’s death, Rob, you asked us if we would like to record our memories of her to become part of your collective remembrance. We willingly agreed. For many reasons since we last spoke to you we have not been able to honour our undertaking, but never from lack of care for you. We now have the necessary space in our lives and have spent two happy/sad days recalling and setting down our memories of Hazel.
We first met Hazel nearly thirty years ago, so some of the details of our account may be a little inaccurate. We have tried to share with you the memories of Hazel that we cherish, together with some observation and reflection. If there are gaps in the detail, at least the spirit will be clear — this was the Hazel we knew and loved.
A little background. The period of our overlapping stays in Canberra (1971 - 1975) was a happy time for all three of us. It was a time when none of us was experiencing any major life crisis. It was a time of opportunity and hope for all of us. Hazel was twenty-three years old when we first met her ands she had not very long arrived in Australia. She had come to Canberra, from Sydney we think, and was settling into her job as a Scientific Officer in the Department of Primary Industry. We were in our late twenties (Kerry 27, Mike 29), married four years with two young boys (Andrew "Goll" 3 and Dan 1, Brigid was born in 1973) and Mike was settling into his first full-time academic job at the (then) Canberra C.A.E. The three of us were all new arrivals (nearly everyone in Canberra in those days was an immigrant from somewhere) and all three of us were in different ways setting off on our new careers. A good time in our lives. Our time in Canberra corresponded exactly with the rise and fall of the Whitlam Labor Government. That was a special, unique, time in Canberra. Initially a time of expectation ands hope, then of exhilaration, idealism, excitement and action, followed by increasing careerism, incompetence and cynicism and finally doubt, confusion, fear and nightmarish disillusionment. But overwhelmingly the years 1971 to 1974 (at least) were years of optimism and hope in the public domain. None of the three of us were "true believers," not even party members (although Kerry was tempted). We were just young educated adults who believed strongly that Australia could be a more decent and fairer place, more diverse and more tolerant, and that government had an important part to play in that.
Kerry and Hazel first met at the inaugural Lifeline training course for volunteer telephone counsellors. They found themselves sitting next to each other and discovered that we lived diagonally opposite in Madigan Street, Hackett. They liked each other immediately and that night Hazel came back to our place for supper. So commenced a four-year conversation on almost every important issue in our lives and a lifelong friendship. In several months Hazel and Kerry went off to weekly training sessions, often together. Some of the training was quite challenging at the personal level and they would often come back to our place afterwards to compare notes and to lick their wounds. On a weekend residential training workshop Kerry fell and broke her ankle. Hazel cared for her and brought her home.
At this time Hazel shared a house in Madigan Street with another young English woman called Erica — about whom we know almost nothing. Hazel worked in the "Dried Fruits" section of the Department of Primary Industry — a designation she regarded with great amusement. At some time during our period in Canberra (possible around 1973) she moved to a more interesting and challenging job in the committees secretariat of the Senate. By this time she was starting to develop a good nose for bureaucratic politics and to build her own Canberra network — particularly among the new generation of talented younger women (the Burton girls, Marianne "Anna" Kamarul). She did not seem. however, to be caught up in the Canberra public service game but she was astute enough to qualify herself to be able to place herself where she wanted to be — with ease. A little later she began studying law at A.N.U.
We left Canberra in mid-1975. Since then we had infrequent contact with Hazel. When we visited Canberra in the late ’seventies we would always called to see her. On one occasion she spontaneously took the kids off to see "The Planet of the Apes" — she really wanted to see it herself. Later if work brought her to Melbourne she would call on us and it was always good to see her. And then she called once with you, Rob, and a few years later with both Rob and baby Josh. She was an unbelievably joyful and proud mother. Although our visits were few, Hazel always sent us a card at Christmas. Her cards were not just hurried formal pieces — there was always a short note, always real and personal, we knew where she was in her life and how she felt. She wrote to us early and openly about her cancer and the likelihood of an early death, with no self-pity and with great acceptance. The last time we saw Hazel was at home on her 49th birthday. We were so moved by her courage and calmness, by the fact that she had not lost her capacity to live positively and by her (and your) immense generosity in including us in her celebrations. We were in the midst of a very lonely and difficult search at that time and the unreserved welcome you both gave us restored our spirits profoundly. She was still the same old Hazel when we needed her.
Who was "the same old Hazel" who meant so much to both of us? She was an unusually tall young English woman who had to fold herself up (down) to get into her little white Morris Mini. She was a young woman of striking appearance and great natural beauty. She had an open face, high cheek bones and extraordinarily health skin (she impressed Kerry greatly at the time, for she was the first woman she had ever met who used Clinique skin-care products). But even more striking than her slender height or her olive skin was her delightful smile — and she always smiled a lot. There was then and always after a great feeling of vitality about Hazel: she was healthy, active, energetic and glowing. But there was nothing driven or frenetic in her, she was always relaxed and calm, with a deep inner composure. She seemed to enjoy everything she did, she was not a complaining person and she was at that time content to live very frugally. She played squash, liked movies and loved cabaret comedy. Even when she lived in Canberra, she had a love for Sydney, it seemed to represent the vitality and diversity she valued so highly. And so it was no surprise when she later decided to make her home in Sydney, inner Sydney. That was one of the things we had in common, a love for inner city life.
Hazel was a very sociable person. She was easy company and, in those Canberra days, she loved to chat over a cup of tea. You never ran out of things to talk about with Hazel. She was engaged and engaging, she was curious and well-informed. On many issues, especially those touching on social justice and fairness, she held strong view which she was never afraid to state, but she was never offensive. She had too great a sense of humour for that. She laughed with you, at you and at herself — and she laughed loud. She saw the ironies in situations and the irony of life itself. She could be deadly serious but she never took herself too seriously. She was talented but modest about her talents and she had no time for artifice or pretension. Nothing seemed to amuse her more than the empty posturings of the self-important and there were more than enough of them in Canberra. She didn’t denounce them, she just had that slightly amused look on her face. She had too much generosity of spirit for that. She knew all the rumours and the gossip but was rarely chewed up by it, she was never vicious, just amused.
There was something homely about Hazel, not in appearance but in her nature. Her unaffected ease with people, her genuine interest in the small concerns of daily life, her ready humour, her politeness without formality and the fact that she never fully shed the accent of her origins, all made her fully real and fully accessible.
She was warm. She got on well with our kids and they thought she was great fun. She was good natured, patient and playful with them and she took their concerns seriously. At that stage in her life the thought of having children of her own was very far from her mind. In fact, she seemed to be slightly overwhelmed by the thought of such a responsibility. We never, in those days, thought of her as someone taking mothering so seriously as she eventually did.
She was a free spirit. She travelled lightly with few possessions and few entanglements (there was always an old friend in dire straits, but that was never really distressing to her). She just shrugged and helped out. She was a slightly zany young Englishwoman working in "Dried Fruit" — stepping back and being amused at what she saw of herself. She was thoughtful but not fiercely introspective and she had good self-knowledge for her years. Inwardly she was free, but outwardly she never felt the need to be outrageous or disrespectful. The one thing she never wanted to be was "stuck." To be stuck in a job she did not enjoy, to be stuck in an uncongenial town, to be stuck in an unsatisfactory relationship. She valued her freedom and she respected the freedom of those around her; she liked diversity and could tolerate difference. And, in so far as we can judge, Hazel never did become really stuck in her life.
We three were neighbours. We met by chance and it was accidental that we lived close by each other. The relationship could have been no more than a polite greeting and a watery smile in the street. But we really liked each other. We found that none of us conformed to the 1970s Canberra stereotype, none of us were really Canberra people at heart and that each of us was vaguely working through the possibilities in our lives which would eventually take us out of Canberra. We became, and remained, neighbours of the soul.
There was a lot of mundane neighbourliness in our relationship — Hazel dropped in a lot and we were always cheered to see her. Many Canberra people are very hesitant about "dropping in." We were not practitioners of that horrible Canberra institution "the dinner party" but she would often eat with us — whatever was going. We shared endless cups of tea and lots of conversation, often late and not without disagreement — Hazel could be disarmingly direct, even blunt. Hazel was one of about a dozen special people who changed our time in Canberra from being a period of great aridity to being a special time in our lives. We then, and subsequently, lived very separate lives but the friendship remained close.
Our hopes of the Canberra years were never fully realised politically. Personally, however, things turned out better for the three of us and those around us — not all of our shared hopes were in vain.
Hazel was a constant friend of our adult lives. Not always close by but always there. She was gracious — always accepting, understanding and encouraging. She was positive; she radiated good will and enjoyment of life. In this sense she was graceful, full of grace, full of things freely given. Her life touched our lives and we have been blessed by her.
Again, Rob, Josh and Zoë, we are sorry that it has taken so long. It has been a good thing for us to do. If at any time any of you would like to talk with us of our recollections of Hazel, we would be very happy to.
With fond memories of Hazel.
Warmest wishes to all three of you.
Mike and Kerry.
Mike and Kerry were friends of Hazel’s.