“If you enjoyed the story of Philomena, or watched the film with Steve Coogan & Judi Dench, then I hope that you will love ‘Gloria’ too…
Copyright 2022 – Terri Shanks
This week myself and my son Cameron (10) will set off on another journey around the world. It will be the third time in four years we have circumnavigated the globe and we have many exciting adventures which lay ahead that I am sure we will blog about separately as we go.
This journey however is extra special, and will be an emotional rollercoaster as I also carry a very special cargo (that of my late mother, Gloria’s ashes) and complete an enormous circle of love which began more than 58 years ago.
Gloria was my Mum, a Sussex (England) based nurse, who at the age of just 25 in 1964 sailed out of Southampton waters as a £10 pom heading for a new life down under in Australia. As she departed on this incredible voyage no one could have foreseen what lay ahead; a story of adventure, of romance, of loss… and of many lives around the globe which would subsequently become interwoven in love.
I have been saying for a long time that I would write my Mums story (and mine) in a book, but time has just never been on my side to get it done. Yet as I start out on this new journey with Cameron I feel compelled to finally write it and to share it as a series of blogs instead, and by the time we arrive leave Australia’s shores in just over 8 weeks time I very much hope this story will finally have an ending; a happy one.
Before we focus on an ending though, we have to start at the beginning, and this is where this story starts for me….
My childhood: a happy but simple one, we didn’t have much and yet we wanted for nothing. I was the youngest of two daughters born just 21 months apart, we grew up in a small terrace house in Lancing, a village on the south coast of England. Our parents Gloria and Bill, had by 1960’s and 70’s standards, married and had children quite late in life. They met in 1967, married in 1968, had my sister Marie in 1969 and I came along in November 1970. It was a busy 4 years for them. Mum was 32 when I was born but apparently in those days throughout her pregnancy she was treated as a ‘geriatric’ mother. Certainly I remember at school my Mum was the oldest out of off of my friends Mums which seems bizarre now, especially given that I didn’t go on to have my son until 4 days before my 41st birthday!
Mum and Dad were both strict catholics, Marie and I attended a catholic school, we went to mass every Sunday (even when we went on holiday, the first thing our parents would do was to drive around to find the local Catholic Church and look up mass times so we didn’t miss it on Sunday!). We both made our first holy communions at the age of 7, were taken to confession once a month and were confirmed at the age of 14. You could say that Catholicism was somewhat shoved down our throats, but at that age we didn’t really question it. Dad came from a Scottish catholic family, but hadn’t actually been inside a Catholic Church for many years until he met Mum. Mum however had been raised Church of England and made the decision to convert to Catholicism at the age of 21 – and once she had made that conversion then boy did she stick to it, and we all spent many years along on the ride.
You may ask what the religious connection is with a travel story but it will all become clear.
For as along as I can remember our parents encouraged us to travel, I have strong memories of both of them telling us “don’t marry young, go out and see the world first”. We never had the money for overseas holidays when we were growing up, our family holidays were visits to stay with Aunties, caravan holidays or touring the U.K staying in various Youth Hostels along with way. We knew however that both of our parents had travelled independently before they met; Dad had been in the army and served in Aden, Germany and Cyprus, and we knew Mum had spent 2 years living out in Australia.
My first view of this land down under was through my mothers eyes. Mum had very few printed photos, the majority of her pictures from her two years in Australia were on good old fashioned slides, and how I remember the many occasions that Mum would have slide nights either just for us, or for various visiting friends. Out would come the box of slides, the screen and the projector, the curtains were closed, the lights would be switched off, and then ‘click’ the first slide would drop into place and then on the big screen ahead of us Mums black and white memories would appear. I even remember her coming to my school when I was 5 or 6 to give a talk about Australia with her slide presentation, and the same for the Brownies a couple of years later.
I never got bored of watching Mums slides, or listening the stories she told, she talked endlessly about her nursing friends, swimming in the sea when she didn’t realise the shark nets were not out, and barbecues on the beach on Christmas Day. We always asked about Sydney Opera House, but just like it’s own designer, Mum never saw it completed. Her only photos of it were an outlying structure surrounded by scaffolding.
Mums passion for Australia rubbed off on me and I can remember from about the age of just 4-5 feeling this deep heartfelt connection with Sydney and desperately wanting to go, longing to see koalas, kangaroos, possums, the Blue Mountains (which I had only ever seen in black and white) and of course the iconic Sydney Opera House. Yet despite my yearning as a young girl, little did I know then that it wouldn’t be until I was 40 that I would finally get to step foot in that beautiful country I had longed and dreamed about for so many years, and would in that moment begin a new story of my own.
Yet for all the talking that Mum did about Australia, and all the 100’s of slides and pictures she showed us, little did I know of the very big secret that she was hiding……