Australia – Meetings, Lies and New Life
In February 2011 I needed to visit Melbourne anyway for both personal and professional reasons. The International College of Celebrancy with whom I was working alongside in my Celebrancy Training business were based there…and the personal reasons will become clear in the next chapter.
So in visiting Melbourne it seemed crazy to be in Australia and not take a flight across to Sydney to meet with Marks adoptive family. His adopted mother Iris had corresponded on several occasions now with both Gloria and myself and although the relationship was not as open, welcome and loving as the one with the boys in the USA we were all building a comfortable rapport and most importantly Gloria was starting to learn more and more about her son, the early years in Australia and his latter 12 years in California.
I decided to take a leap of faith and write another letter to Iris. I explained that Georgia and I were coming out to Melbourne and to see how she would feel about meeting face to face if we flew up to Sydney for a day or two. I desperately wanted to meet her, more so for Mums sake than for my own, to see her face to face, feel her energy, hear her voice, and see the house where Mark had spent so much of his younger life. I didn’t want to push things though, I knew Iris was still grieving badly for Mark and I did not want to put anything else on her which made her feel under pressure or make her grief any deeper than it already was.
An email came back via Iris’s youngest son, not only agreeing to meet with us, but offering for us to go and stay for two days in her home as well. I was overwhelmed by this invitation, it wasn’t what I had been expecting but of course accepted it immediately with huge amounts of gratitude.
Georgia and I booked to fly to Melbourne first, then go across to Sydney for two days and then return to Melbourne, and we did exactly that. This was my very first trip to Australia and I didn’t want to fly directly into Sydney – I had dreamed and visualised for so many years of flying in there to be reunited with my brother and I now knew this was never going to be a reality. Somehow flying there on a domestic flight rather than an international one seem to soften the blow just a little.
So Georgia (then 13) and myself flew into Melbourne where we were met around midnight by Dally Messenger who is the principal of the International College of Celebrancy in Australia and who was the primary reason of my business trip there.
After a wonderful week in Melbourne we flew on to Sydney. Walking into that arrivals hall still filled my eyes with tears, it was harder than I had expected. There was no one there to meet us as Georgia and I had arranged to get the train from Sydney Airport out to Beverly Hills which was the area of Sydney where Iris lived.
It was just a short walk from the station to Iris’s house and as soon as we met her any nerves I had just melted away. However, not only was Iris there to meet us but all of Marks siblings (except his oldest sister Victoria) their husbands, wives, and children. It was a huge family gathering and one which we were welcomed into with open arms.
We had a beautiful lunch and a wonderful afternoon getting to know these friendly and welcoming people, but there was one person missing – ‘Mark’! No one mentioned his name, no one spoke of him, it was almost like everyone was scared of being the first person to mention him (including myself!) in fear of upsetting the other side, and I felt myself feeling increasingly uncomfortable with this elephant in the room. I wanted to hear ALL of their stories and memories but naturally didn’t want to push this on anyone.
It wasn’t until much later that evening when the siblings and their families had all gone back to their respective homes and we were alone there just with Iris that she finally opened up and started to talk about Mark. There was still much information to exchange, we wanted to know about Marks story and she wanted to know about Gloria’s story – and it was here in this moment that the depth of the nuns lies finally came to light. Firstly Iris confirmed that whilst Marks adoption had been agreed in December 1964 they did not bring him home until after the new year, meaning that whilst Gloria had been sent away from Waitara believing that her baby son would be with his new family for Christmas, this was NOT the case. Iris spent Christmas believing that the baby’s birth mother was still taking care of him, yet for no known reason this poor baby who already had two mothers who loved him dearly spent his first Christmas alone and in the sole care of the nuns at Waitara Foundling Home. (I NEVER revealed this finding to Gloria as it would have just shattered her heart even more)
Secondly Iris had been told that Marks birth mother was an english nurse who had fallen pregnant in England, had been shipped over to Australia to have the baby and was shipped straight home again. Apart from the fact of Mum being an english nurse none of the rest of it was true, and when Iris learned of the truth, she said with tears in her eyes “if we had known for one moment Gloria had remained here alone in Australia we would have helped her and had contact with her, we would never have let her be abandoned in the way that she was”.
The second and biggest lie revealed why Gloria and Mark/Michael had never been reunited on the register was because at the time of the adoption the paperwork which Iris and her husband were given showed that the baby’s birth mother was called ANN and not GLORIA. There was no social services involved as there would be these days, the adoption was a completely private arrangement – the nuns at Waitara had FORGED the adopted records!!!
As Gloria and Mark searched across the globe for one another for all those years, Gloria did not know her sons adopted name, and Mark was searching for a mother called Ann. This forgery was the single factor which meant that Mark went to his grave never knowing how much he was loved and cherished by his birth mother, and Gloria would have to live the rest of her life with a broken heart having never been reunited with her son before he died.
Our visit with Iris and her family was very very special and healing though. Gloria had been told all those years earlier that she couldn’t ask for a nicer family to raise her son, and in meeting Iris I fully believe that to be true, her love and dedication to her family shone through in abundance, and of course sleeping in the house which was Marks home from the age of 6 was also incredibly cathartic. Being able to show Gloria photos of the house which her son grew up in and the family he grew up with helped her massively in processing her grief.
On the second day, Mark’s older brother Peter took myself and Georgia along with his own son and Iris to a wonderful zoo in Sydney around and hour away from where they lived. I didn’t feel great in the car on the way there and as the day went on I felt worse and worse. I wanted to be on top form as we fed kangaroos and cuddled koalas, but I felt more and more nauseous and dizzy as the day went on. By the time we arrived back at Iris’s I had to excuse myself from the meal she was preparing and go and lie down in the bedroom.
I had only experienced this feeling of heady nausea once in my life before, it was 13 years earlier when I was pregnant with Georgia. My period was already a few days late but had put it down to travel, stress and emotion, but now as I lay on the bed in Marks childhood home, I put my hand on my tummy and without even doing a test, I knew instinctively that there was a new little life growing inside of me…..
Copyright 2022, Terri Shanks